India rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

India’s coastguard finds 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat crammed with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea.

Rohingya refugees crew
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh [File: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

India’s coastguard has found 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat crammed with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea, an Indian foreign ministry official said.

The official on Friday added that the survivors would not be allowed to enter Indian territory.

A refugee was missing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said about the rescue on Thursday.

The boat had set off on February 11 from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where refugee camps have been established for more than a million Rohingya who fled a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017.

After four days at sea, the boat’s engine failed and the Rohingya ran out of food and water. Many of them were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration by the time they were rescued, Srivastava said.

Two Indian coastguard ships were sent to help the refugees, 23 of whom were children, and the Indian government is in discussions with Bangladesh to ensure their safe return, he said.

Authorities in Bangladesh said on Monday they were unaware of any boats leaving the camps.

Bangladesh has prevented a number of attempts by refugees to sail into the sea in the past few years, as human traffickers often lure them with the prospect of a better life in Malaysia or Indonesia.

The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat.

“We understand that the crew of smugglers abandoned the ship some days ago. Without a qualified crew on board, there is a high risk of further harm to the refugees and more deaths,” Catherine Stubberfield, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said on Monday.

Source: News Agencies