Saturday, February 23, 2013 (Photo – Sri Lanka Navy), The News Pakistan
YANGON/GENEVA: Myanmar boat survivors rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy last week say they floated for 25 days at sea and 97 people died of starvation after Thailand’s navy intercepted and forcibly removed their boat’s engines.
Thirty-two men and a boy now detained at an immigration detention centre near Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, were rescued last Saturday when their dilapidated wooden vessel began sinking while making a perilous journey to Malaysia. The Thai navy has denied the allegation.
The survivors are Rohingya Muslims regarded as illegal immigrants into Myanmar from Bangladesh, and say they do not want to return to Myanmar.
The survivors were suffering from severe dehydration when they were rescued about 250 miles off Sri Lanaka’s east coast.’
Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency on Friday raised the alarm over the rising number of boat people perishing in the Indian Ocean, including Rohingya Muslims fleeing communal strife in Myanmar.
“It is clear that for people fleeing violence and conflict in their homelands, this has become one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
In 2012, some 13,000 people took to smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal, of whom 500 died at sea when the vessels broke down or capsized, said Mahecic.
“Already in 2013, several thousand people are believed to have boarded smugglers boats in the Bay of Bengal,” he added.
Among the most recent incidents, around 90 people are believed to have died of dehydration and starvation during a two-month journey, he said.
Around 30 survivors were rescued last weekend by Sri Lanka’s navy off that country’s coast.
“The repeated tragedies at sea demonstrate the need for a coordinated regional response to distress and rescue at sea,” said Mahecic.
Described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world, Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighbouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
Buddhist-Muslim unrest has left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine since June 2012.