The boat has a satphone and the crew confirmed to humanitarian group ‘Arakan Project’ the presence of 65 Rohingya women and girls, five children below the age of 2 and 20 men….reports Subir Bhaumik
A boat carrying 90 Rohingya refugees and three Bangladesh crewmen drifted into India’s territorial waters on Monday, with calls for immediate rescue mounting from UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
The boat has a satphone and the crew confirmed to humanitarian group ‘Arakan Project’ the presence of 65 Rohingya women and girls, five children below the age of 2 and 20 men.
“Since the boat’s engines stopped functioning six days ago, it has been drifting towards India’s Andaman islands from its course.
“The Rohingyas boarded the boat south of the Bangladesh seaside town of Cox’s Bazar on 11th February and was headed towards Southeast Asia when its engines broke down,” Chris Lewa, director of the Thailand-based “Arakan Project” told this writer.
Lewa, who has long association with the Rohingyas through her humanitarian project to provide relief of the hapless refugees often stranded in hostile host countries or at sea, said eight of these 90 refugees have already died.
“They have no drinking water or food left, so they are drinking sea water in desperation. That is why some of them are collapsing.
“Only the Indian navy or coast guards in Andamans can save them,” said Chris Lewa, adding her organisation have informed the UNHCR and the Western embassies in Dhaka about the “huge humanitarian crisis” over the boat people.
She said the boat’s crew have said they have seen Indian naval patrol crafts near the area.
But Indian navy sources said they were “trying to ascertain the identity of a boat that seems to have drifted into Indian waters off the Andaman coast”.
They promised details later.
So Lewa said she was considering a direct appeal to the Indian government, especially the Indian Navy and coast guards deployed in Andamans to intervene.
“Indian coast guard patrols have traced the Rohingya boat 40 km east of Rangat in the Andamans. They should save the inmates by taking them to safe shelter with food, water and medical treatment,” said Chris Lewa.
The exact coordinates of the boat at 10.30 a.m. Indian time on Monday was shared when the ‘Arakan Project’ managed to reach the crew of the boat.
“They told me that three onboard the boat died on Saturday and five on Monday — all victims suffered from acute diarrhoea after consuming sea water,” said Chris Lewa.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had appealed for immediate rescue of the Rohingya refugees on this boat.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR says it received reports of an “unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday 20th February”.
It urged the countries in the area, meaning India, Bangladesh and Myanmar to begin an immediate search.
“Saving lives must be the priority,” said Indrika Ratwatte, the director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific said in a statement.