Malaysia-bound and fleeing Bangladesh, Rohingya Muslim refugees are feared misplaced at sea

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At sea the following morning, used a satellite tv for pc cellphone to name her mom, Gule Jaan, 43, to say she was heading for Malaysia on a small picket boat, full of 87 Rohingya refugees, together with 65 ladies and women.

Some have been fleeing what their households say is the elevated threat of sexual assault and rape throughout the pandemic within the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, residence to greater than 1 million displaced individuals.

The 16-year-old requested her mom to pay 40,000 taka ($470) to the trafficker for her passage to Malaysia, the place she hoped to have a greater life. Her mom was nonetheless arranging the cost when households of different passengers on board obtained a name to say the boat’s engine had failed.

That they had been at sea for simply 5 days. Now, greater than two months later, the boat is lacking.

“Please, can somebody let me know if my daughter is alive or useless?” stated Jaan. “She is an efficient lady and was lured by the trafficker to go on the boat.”

Gule Jaan worries for her daughter who boarded a boat bound for Malaysia on February 11.

The passengers’ households and rights teams are asking why extra is not being finished to avoid wasting the lives of these on board.

They are saying Indian authorities have been alerted to the passengers’ determined cries for assistance on February 20, however took 48 hours to reply with medicines, meals and water.

Whereas they waited, 9 individuals died, the households stated.

Indian authorities stated they final delivered assist to the boat in mid-March, and haven’t responded to requests for extra data on their dealings with the vessel after that date. They didn’t enable anybody to disembark.

The boat’s disappearance is compounding the distress of households in Cox’s Bazar, the place lax safety is permitting militants to enter the camps at evening to assault ladies and women, in line with rights teams.

Over the previous 12 months, the UNHCR stated extra ladies and women have boarded rickety vessels to flee sexual violence throughout the camps — a development prone to proceed because the coup throughout the border in Myanmar makes returning residence an much more distant prospect.

The journey

The refugees’ voyage started within the early hours of February 11 from the shores of Teknaf in Bangladesh, the place most on board had wound up after fleeing a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s navy in 2017.

Three traffickers have been additionally on board, in line with members of the family who spoke with the passengers.

  • Timeline of boat’s journey

  • February 2021

    11th: Boat leaves Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh with 90 passengers and crew.

    16th: Boat’s engine fails at sea.

    20th: Boat sails close to Indian waters and first name to assist to Indian authorities is made.

    21st (day): A ship with an Indian flag goes previous the boat however would not cease for assist. 5 individuals die on the boat that day.

    21st (night): Two helicopters fly over the boat. Just a few hours later, two Indian Coast Guard ships seem on both facet of the vessel. No contact is made they usually depart with out offering assist. Three extra individuals die that day. One individual jumps after the ship and goes lacking.

    22nd (three p.m.): Indian Coast Guard ships return and supply meals and water to the passengers, however they aren’t allowed to disembark.

  • March 2021

    Mid-March: Indian authorities offered assist to the vessel till this date, however didn’t reply to additional questions.

Supply: Passengers’ households, UNHCR, India Ministry of Exterior Affairs

The boat had sufficient provides for every week, the time it could often take to journey from Teknaf to Malaysia, they stated.

Greater boats typically used for any such journey have desalination machines to transform salt water to consuming water. However this boat was smaller, and didn’t have such a machine, in line with the passengers’ households.

After the boat’s engine stopped on February 16, meals and water provides ran low. Over the following few days, the boat drifted nearer to Indian waters.

On the morning of February 20, Shah Alam, a 23-year-old ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugee, known as his brother in Cox’s Bazar. He stated the boat was within the Bay of Bengal and there wasn’t something to drink. “Brother, the place can I get water to drink?” he requested.

Passengers additionally known as non-profit organizations and journalists for assist.

Their households stated the GPS coordinates despatched from the satellite tv for pc cellphone positioned the boat just a few nautical miles from Indian Coast Guard headquarters within the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — an Indian territory within the Bay of Bengal.

A number of NGOs instantly knowledgeable authorities in India and Bangladesh, together with the Indian Ministry of Exterior Affairs and Indian Coast Guard.

The following day, on February 21, a ship with Indian flags handed the boat, however didn’t cease, the passengers instructed their households through satellite tv for pc cellphone.

The identical night, two helicopters hovered close to the boat, shut sufficient for passengers to learn the writing on the facet. “INDIA,” it stated.

Household on shore: “Is the helicopter very near you?”

Boat passenger: “Slightly bit removed from us, slightly bit far however we’re shouting to hunt their consideration.”

Household on shore: “Is it the identical one which already visited you?”

Boat passenger: “Sure, similar one, and ‘India’ is written on the helicopter.”

Household on shore: “Sure, large brother is saying that, this helicopter is from India.”

Boat passenger: “The helicopter appeared round 4 to 5 instances right here. They have been very close to our boat, as close to as a pole’s size.”

Recorded Feb. 21 earlier than assist arrived the following day. Supply: Robi Alam


Just a few hours later after the helicopters departed, two Indian Coast Guard ships pulled up close to the boat. However the passengers instructed their households the ships did not make contact with them or provide any meals or water.

“Folks jumped into the ocean they usually drank salty water (out of desperation), they usually died right here … many have died right here,” stated Shah Alam, in line with audio recordings of calls made on February 21 heard by CNN.

Shah Alam (boat passenger): “The Navy got here and visited us very carefully, however they aren’t taking us from right here. We jumped into the water, however they’re nonetheless not serving to us.”

Recorded Feb. 21 earlier than assist arrived the following day. Supply: Robi Alam


9 individuals died that day, the passengers instructed their households, together with a person who disappeared beneath the waves after leaping overboard to chase the Indian Coast Guard vessel because it moved away.

The following day, on February 22, Indian Coast Guard ships returned with meals and drugs.

“Everybody was very comfortable and relieved that they have been being given meals and water,” stated Alam’s brother Robi Alam, a Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar.

Nevertheless, nobody was allowed to disembark, the refugees instructed their households through satellite tv for pc cellphone.

“That was the final time I spoke to my brother,” Robi Alam stated. That day, the satellite tv for pc cellphone went useless.

The Indian Coast Guard didn’t reply to a request for remark.

An Indian authorities official stated India offered help to the boat till mid-March, and didn’t specify why that help stopped.

“I do not know the place they’re proper now,” stated Col. V.Okay.S Tomar, Officer on Particular Responsibility (OSD) at India’s Ministry of Exterior Affairs for the Bangladesh and Myanmar division. “All I do know is that we have been offering them with meals and water on the boat till mid-March, however they weren’t allowed to disembark from the boat till then.”

He wouldn’t touch upon why the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark.

The UNHCR stated the passengers want pressing assist.

“With refugees and asylum seekers having been at sea for over two months now, disembarkation is totally important to saving lives,” stated Catherine Stubberfield, spokesperson for UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “Nobody can survive for lengthy in these situations.”

“They get picked up and raped”

Noor was 12 when she and her household fled a navy crackdown of their village within the Maungdaw district of Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017.

“Our village was burnt down, and my brother was killed, we needed to flee,” stated Jaan, Noor’s mom, who works at a hospital run by the charity CARE Bangladesh.

“Noor by no means appreciated it right here. She at all times needed to do one thing extra, however we won’t ship women anyplace right here. They get picked up and raped. I believe that is why she left with the trafficker,” stated Jaan.

Previously 12 months, the camp has develop into a extra harmful place, stated Razia Sultana, from the Rohingya Ladies Welfare Society. Abductions by native gangs, sexual violence and trafficking have develop into extra frequent, whereas Covid-19 lockdowns have shut down the one secure areas for ladies and women.

“After 5 p.m., there isn’t any safety presence within the camp,” Sultana stated.

“(Members of militant teams) assault the homes of any girl or lady they fancy, abduct them, both forcefully marry them, or sexually assault them.”

Sultana says households are fearful of reporting this to the authorities, as they imagine no motion shall be taken.

The boat was carrying 90 people -- 87 Rohingya refugees and  three traffickers.

Any hope the refugees might have had of returning house is fading, too.

On February 1, the identical navy leaders accused of finishing up genocide towards the Rohingya individuals in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state seized management of the nation. The Myanmar navy claimed to have been focusing on terrorists when it raided Rohingya villages in 2017, forcing tons of of 1000’s to flee.

However bloodshed in current weeks, together with the capturing of civilian protesters, has uncovered the brutality of the navy and raised fears the nation is descending into civil conflict.

In that atmosphere, many ladies and women are susceptible to traffickers who promise them security and freedom in neighboring Southeastern Asian nations like Malaysia. Nevertheless, as soon as there, many are pushed into compelled marriages and home servitude, rights teams say.

“We now have seen a lot of instances of minor Rohingya women being trafficked into compelled marriages,” stated John Quinley, Senior Human Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights, an NGO that works to strengthen human rights actions in Southeast Asia. “Numerous single Rohingya males in Malaysia need to marry ladies from Rakhine State, they usually strike offers with traffickers. It is an exploitative course of.”

Even on a secure crusing, the journey from Bangladesh to Malaysia poses dangers.

“I’ve spoken to women who took the boat journey and talked about what occurs to them in transit,” says Mahi Ramakrishnan, a Malaysia-based filmmaker and refugee rights activist. “There’s sexual abuse, and the rapes occur within the view of everybody. The lady is pulled apart just a few meters from the group and raped.”

Nobody’s countrymen

For these on Noor’s boat, time is working out.

There is no such thing as a energetic search underway for the vessel. And even when the passengers are discovered alive, then comes the query of who will take them in.

All nations are certain by worldwide regulation to rescue and disembark these in misery at sea. Nevertheless, current examples present some nations in southeast Asia have been unwilling to assist.

Noor asked her mother for money to pay traffickers to transport her to Malaysia.
In March 2020, a bigger boat carrying nearly 300 Rohingyas set sail from Cox’s Bazar. The passengers spent greater than six months adrift at sea and have been turned away by a number of nations earlier than lastly being accepted by Indonesia. By then, at the very least 30 individuals together with ladies and kids had died. Many surviving ladies stated they have been assaulted on board the vessel.
Noor’s boat was heading to Malaysia, however final June Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stated the nation might not absorb Rohingya refugees, Reuters reported. Malaysia will not be occasion to the UN Refugee Conference and doesn’t have an asylum system regulating the standing and rights of refugees, in line with the UNHCR.

The Malaysian authorities has not responded to requests for remark concerning the lacking boat.

Bangladeshi authorities didn’t reply to request for remark from CNN, however the overseas minister, A.Okay. Abdul Momen, instructed Reuters the Bangladeshi authorities expects India or Myanmar to simply accept the Rohingya refugees stranded on the boat.

The UNHCR says duty for the boat lies with the nation first alerted to its state of misery. That will imply India.

“The state during which a ship in misery is first recognized bears the first duty for offering or making certain a spot of security,” stated Stubberfield, from UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “UNHCR is deeply involved by current delays in rescue and disembarkation for refugees in misery at sea.”

Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Undertaking, a nonprofit group that works to enhance the state of affairs of Myanmar’s Rohingya inhabitants, agreed the boat fell beneath India’s jurisdiction. “That they had the obligation to disembark them,” she stated. “Sadly, since then the boat hasn’t confirmed anyplace, I’m so unhappy to say this, nevertheless it appears to be like like they’ve disappeared or died at sea.”

India will not be occasion to the UN Refugee Conference and lacks a nationwide refugee safety construction, in line with the UNHCR.
Earlier this month, India’s Supreme Court docket dominated that Rohingya refugees in India could be forcibly returned to Myanmar.
This ruling is counter to the precept of “non-refoulement” beneath worldwide regulation, which prohibits a state from returning any individual on its territory or beneath its jurisdiction to a rustic the place they face persecution, in line with Human Rights Watch.

For Noor’s mom, hope is fading for her daughter, and others on the boat.

“I fled with my daughter from Myanmar 4 years in the past after my village was burnt, and right this moment my daughter is prone to being despatched again to the identical place or dying within the sea,” Jaan stated.

“I do not know what’s worse.”





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