Sri Lanka rescued over 100 Rohingya adrift in Indian Ocean

COLOMBO, 20 Dec 2022:

Over 100 Rohingya refugees – whose damaged boat was drifting off the coast of Sri Lanka – have been rescued by the island nation’s navy, officials said yesterday.

“In rough sea conditions, the Navy (…) rescued 104 Myanmar nationals who were aboard the non-operational craft and the group of people was brought to Kankesanthurai Harbour” in the north of the country, said Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Gayan Wickramasuriya.

The rescue took place on Sunday night and Wickramasuriya said a judge had visited the group of Rohingya, who were trying to reach Indonesia.

In a statement yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees commended the Sri Lankan Navy’s swift response and the local fishermen who came to the aid of the refugees.

“This is an example of humanity that all States in the region must follow to promptly and swiftly act to prevent the tragic loss of life at sea,’’ UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific, Indrika Ratwatte, said.

The UN refugee agency also noted its concern over reports of a second Rohingya refugee boat adrift in the Bay of Bengal near India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

At least 160 Rohingya refugees are on the drifting boat, UNHCR warned on Dec 8, and “according to reports, many have lost their lives and others are in danger as they lack food and water.”

A Rohingya activist based in a refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, Mohammed Khan Rezuwan, said he had been able to speak to crew members of the drifting vessel, which is carrying his sister and her five-year-old daughter.

“They set sail on Nov 25, and when the engines were malfunctioning, we contacted them to see if we could help or rescue them,” Rezuwan said.

“They said their engines were not working and appealed for emergency rescue, and said they might die otherwise,” said Rezuwan, adding that he had informed the UNHCR office in the southern Cox’s Bazar region, where the majority of Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are found.

The Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean are often used by human traffickers in Bangladesh to transfer undocumented Bangladeshis, migrants and Rohingya refugees trying to reach other countries in search of better opportunities.

Bangladesh is home to some 925,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing neighbouring Myanmar, at least 774,000 of whom have arrived since the beginning of the Burmese army’s campaign in western Rakhine state in 2017, an operation that the UN labelled as ethnic cleansing and genocide.