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Radio Free Asia

Bangladesh Coast Guard Rescues Hundreds of 'Starving' Rohingya

2020-04-16 -- Hundreds of "starving" Rohingya men, women and children were brought ashore in Bangladesh after a nearly two-month failed journey to Malaysia during which dozens died and were thrown overboard, officials and survivors said Thursday.

The Bangladesh Coast Guard said it had rescued 396 Rohingya refugees off a boat near Teknaf, a sub-district of southeastern Cox's Bazar, late Wednesday.

"With the support of the Border Guard Bangladesh, we rescued the fishing trawler which was carrying the Rohingya from the Baharchora Jahajpur area of Teknaf at 9 p.m. Wednesday," said Lt. Cmdr. M. Sohel Rana, a coast guard official stationed in Teknaf.

"They were starving. They were floating for 58 days and over the last seven days [the boat] was moving in our territorial waters," he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Sixty-four children, 182 women and 150 men were rescued, he said.

A BenarNews reporter reached out to more than a dozen Rohingya survivors from the boat.

"Somehow I survived without having adequate food in the last two months and landed in Bangladesh," one of the survivors, who identified himself only as "Majed" and as a refugee from a camp in Teknaf, told BenarNews, adding that the trawler had reached Malaysian territory on March 8.

Another survivor, M. Jobayer, said that about 482 people set out on the journey to Malaysia – but were not allowed to land in that country because of tight security measures. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Malaysia has closed its borders and ports, and not allowed foreigners to enter.

M. Sadeque, a refugee from the Balukhali Rohingya camp who was also a passenger on the boat, said that as many as 12 women and 25 men had died during the sea journey.

"The Myanmar Navy detained the trawler on its return from Malaysia, but released it in exchange for money and the crew then fled on another trawler," he told BenarNews. "Finally, our trawler anchored near Teknaf point."

Sohel Rana of the coast guard said the Rohingya were taken to a transit point at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, where they were fed. Those who were sick received treatment before being turned over to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, at noon on Thursday.

UNHCR spokeswoman Louise Donovan said her agency was working with the Bangladesh government to move the Rohingya to quarantine facilities in light of the coronavirus pandemic and to deliver medical attention to those in need.

"We understand these men, women and children were at sea for nearly two months in harrowing conditions and that many of them are extremely malnourished and dehydrated. We dispatched staff to the site this morning and are seeking further information from local authorities," Donovan told BenarNews.

"Our primary concern is for people's immediate health and first aid needs," she said.

About 740,000 Rohingya fled to camps in and around Cox's Bazar from Myanmar's Rakhine state beginning in August 2017, after its military launched a brutal offensive in response to deadly attacks by a rebel group on government security posts. They joined thousands of other Rohingya who had previously fled Myanmar, bringing the number of refugees in the camps to more than 1 million.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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