KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 ― A humanitarian group has urged Malaysians authorities to urgently launch a search mission for a boat with Rohingya refugees who were allegedly dying after being left stranded for days within the country’s search-and-rescue (SAR) limits.
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group chairman Lilianne Fan asserted that her group has information that showed up to 180 Rohingyas remained adrift in the Andaman Sea near Thailand’s Ranong province, which was within Malaysia’s SAR region.
Thai authorities had launched a separate mission that recovered another boat, which Fan claimed may have been mistaken for the one in need of rescue
“It is critical that Malaysia verify if this boat in serious distress is the same one that was rescued by Thais and if not, Malaysia should fulfil our international responsibility to rescue boats in distress in our SAR region without discrimination,” said Fan.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Fan, who is also director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, said she was in touch with the families of the passengers onboard and given coordinates of the boat’s location at 4pm from a satellite phone aboard.
Fan said that their information put the number of passengers at between 160 and 180 Rohingyas, including some 50 women and 30 children, who left Bangladesh on November 26. According to her, the boat was taking on water and its engine disabled days ago.
“Many passengers including women and children have already passed away on the boat as they ran out of food and water in the last five days,” she said.
Fan also asserted that Malaysian authorities were not taking any action as they believed Thailand have already rescued a boat of Rohingya refugees today.
“However, there have been multiple boats at sea and we have concerns the boat in distress was not the one rescued by the Thais. To our knowledge there are multiple boats left and in the sea, different from the boat that was found by oil rig workers yesterday and handed over to the Myanmar Navy,” she said.
“They have been in serious distress at sea in the Andaman Sea for more than a week, and there are people dying. They are in need of urgent rescue and humanitarian assistance and Malaysia has the international responsibility to conduct search and rescue operations for boats in distress in this region,” Fan added.
She said that her organisation has so far been in touch with the Home Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, the Malaysian Consultative Council for Islamic Organization (Mapim) and several members of Parliament.
“I am sure that our government has looked into it but they believe that Thailand has been conducting rescues so right now they are not looking,” she said.
According to the last GPS coordinates received from a satellite phone on the boat at 4pm, the last known location of the boat is approximately 388km from Ranong, 352 km from Port Blair, and 619 km from Langkawi.
The United Nations UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had in a statement Wednesday urged countries in the region to save the lives of about 200 Rohingya refugees whose boat has been stranded off the coast of Thailand since December 1.
Unverified information suggests a number of Rohingya, including women and children, have already lost their lives, and there is a significant risk of additional fatalities in the coming days if people were not rescued.
It was also reported by Reuters earlier today that a Vietnamese oil service vessel rescued 154 Rohingya from a sinking boat in the Andaman Sea and has transferred them to Myanmar’s navy.
The vessel, Hai Duong 29, was en route from Singapore to Myanmar when it spotted the boat in distress 458.7km south of the Myanmar coast on Wednesday.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from Myanmar who have been fleeing the country and refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh with more frequency since 2017.