At one time the plight and suffering of the Rohingya were headline news. Now other events around the world have relegated their continuing misery to mere passing mentions in the media. More than a million Rohingya Muslims are crowded into squalid refugee camps in southern Bangladesh after having fled ethnic cleansing and other violence and repression in Rakhine state, Myanmar, which is ruled by a military dictatorship. Since 2020, thousands of Rohingya have fled the camps by sea.
Tun Khin, a Rohingya activist and refugee who now heads the Burmese Rohingya Organization U.K. said, "These people are facing genocide in Burma. It is a hopeless situation for them in Bangladesh, there is no dignity of life there."
The rescue of hundreds of Rohingya refugees by fishers and local authorities in Indonesia's Aceh province was praised Tuesday as "an act of humanity" by United Nations officials, while relatives of around 180 Rohingya on another vessel that's been missing for weeks feared that all aboard had perished. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that "Indonesia has helped to save 472 people in the past six weeks from four boats, showing its commitment and respect of basic humanitarian principles for people who face persecution and conflict."
"UNHCR urges other states to follow this example. Many others did not act despite numerous pleas and appeals for help," the Geneva-based agency added. "States in the region must fulfil their legal obligations by saving people on boats in distress to avoid further misery and deaths."
Residents of Ladong, a fishing village in Aceh, rushed to help 58 Malaysia-bound Rohingya men who arrived Sunday in a rickety wooden boat, many of them severely dehydrated and starving. The following day, 174 more starving Rohingya men, women, and children, were helped ashore after more than a month at sea.
Babar Baloch, the UNHCR regional spokesperson in Bangkok, stated that 26 people had died aboard the rescued vessel, which left Bangladesh a month ago.
"We were raising alarm about this boat in early December because we had information that it was in the regional waters at least at the end of November," he said. "After its engine failure and it was drifting in the sea, there were reports of this boat being spotted close to Indian waters and we approached and asked them as well and we were also in touch with authorities in Sri Lanka," Baloch continued. According to the BBC, the Indian navy appears to have towed the boat into Indonesian waters after giving its desperate passengers some food and water. The boat drifted for another six days before it was allowed to land. Baloch stressed that "countries and states in the region have international obligations to help desperate people."