U.N. refugee agency calls for rescue of Rohingya stranded in Andaman Sea
The United Nations refugee agency on Monday called for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees who were adrift in their boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, many of whom were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration.
The agency said it understood some passengers had died, with fatalities rising over the weekend on a boat it said had left the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh about 10 days ago and had experienced engine failure.
“In the absence of precise information as to the refugees’ location, we have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement. “Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” it said, offering to support governments by providing humanitarian help and quarantine measures to those rescued.
On Bangladesh's isolated "Rohingya island"
Bangladesh has invested €248 million to make Bhasan Char island liveable for the Rohingya. But the refugees, currently camped in Cox's Bazar district, are reluctant to move to the cyclone-prone island. By Arafatul Islam & Naomi Conrad
Far from the mainland: Bhasan Char, which means "floating island" in Bengali, emerged less than 20 years ago in the Bay of Bengal. The island is located 30 kilometres away from mainland Bangladesh. The government of the Muslim-majority country plans to relocate some 100,000 Rohingya refugees to this island from the overcrowded Cox's Bazar
No easy crossing: there is no proper transport to and from the island. During monsoon season the high seas make it difficult to reach the island by boat
Protected by an embankment: the government has erected a 13-kilometre-long and 3-metre-high embankment to protect the island from high tides and floods. Still, local shopkeepers say that the outer part of the embankment is submerged by 3 to 4 feet during the high tides that occur twice a month
Identical buildings: the Bangladeshi government has erected 1,440 single-storey buildings, with 16 rooms in each, to house the Rohingya refugees. At least four members of a family have to live in a small room. 120 four-storey shelter houses are also available, to be used during cyclones
Solar power for energy: all buildings at Bhasan Char are equipped with solar panels to fulfil their energy demands. A big solar field and two diesel generators for electricity have also been installed. The island has a rainwater harvesting system as well as tube wells to provide drinking water
Protection from erosion: the silt island is called a "floating island" due to its unstable nature. Satellite images detected the island in 2002. Bangladeshi authorities have built a structure with pylons, gravel and sandbags to stop the island from being eroded
Is the island uninhabitable? While some experts say the island is still very fragile and uninhabitable, climate change specialist Ainun Nishat is of the opinion that people can live here if the embankment is heightened to 6.5 to 7 metres. However, he doesn't think that farming is possible on the island
Rohingya fear cyclones and drowning: the refugees are scared that they could die as a result of a cyclone if they are forcibly moved to the island. Many of their children could drown in the sea, they say
Will Rohingya move there? While the island is almost ready to host Rohingya refugees, the government has yet to make a decision on transferring them to it. Several sources say the relocation could take place in November. The Bangladeshi government has hinted it might have to force the refugees to go there if no one chooses to leave the Cox's Bazar's refugee settlements
A senior Indian Coast Guard official told journalists the boat has been tracked and was reported to be safe, but did not yet know the condition of those aboard.
The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority that has suffered persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and many have fled in rickety boats, encountering often perilous journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia and Indonesia.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled a deadly crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces in 2017 and poured into neighbouring Bangladesh, where about a million live in poor conditions in sprawling refugee camps, unable to work or leave without government permission. (Reuters)