370 Died Last Year, Says UN
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Feb 25 2016 (IPS) – Some 370 people, believed to be Rohingyas of Myanmar and Bangladeshis, are estimated to have died in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in 2015, says the UN Refugee Agency.
“The deaths were caused not from drowning but from mistreatment and disease brought about by smugglers who abused and in many cases killed passengers with impunity,” it said in a statement on UN News Centre on Tuesday.
The toll also includes those killed in a fight over diminishing supplies on a boat that had been prevented from anchoring on two occasions (in May-June). Some of these deaths could have been prevented with prompt disembarkation, it said.
The deaths of the refugees and migrants crossing the seas of Southeast Asia are three times higher than those in the Mediterranean last year, according to the report “Mixed Maritime Movements in South-East Asia”.
Across the region, an estimated 33,600 refugees and migrants of various nationalities had taken to smugglers’ boats, including 32,600 in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, where the bulk of the passengers had been Rohingya and Bangladeshi, it said.
“The first half of 2015 had seen the highest-ever estimated departures — 31,000 — while the number was 1,600 in the second half,” the UNHCR said.
Combined, the full-year departures in the Bay of Bengal were just over half of the record-setting previous year, it said.
This decrease can be attributed to the discovery of mass graves along the Thailand-Malaysia land border with the remains of over 200 presumed earlier arrivals, government crackdowns on smuggling networks, and scrutiny of traditional departure and arrival points, it said.
In a statement, UNHCR spokesperson Andreas Needham said the agency believes unless the root causes of displacement are addressed, people will continue risking their lives on smugglers’ boats to seek safety and stability elsewhere.
“There remains an urgent need for affected states to take concrete action to coordinate procedures for rescue at sea, predictable places to disembark passengers safely, as well as adequate reception and screening systems on arrival,” he said.
A lifting of existing restrictions on freedom of movement and access to services throughout Rakhine state in Myanmar would allow thousands of people to live more normal lives and be less likely to risk dangerous sea journeys, he said.
Nearly 1,70,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis are estimated to have made the dangerous journey from the Bay of Bengal since 2012.