At least 24 Rohingya died at sea after their boat failed to reach Malaysia, the coastguard in Bangladesh said on Thursday after rescuing 396 Rohingya people from the vessel which had been adrift for weeks after failing to reach Malaysia.
“They were at sea for about two months and were starving,” an official from the coastguard told Reuters news agency.
The official said a “final decision” had been made to send those rescued to neighbouring Myanmar. The coastguard initially said 382 had been rescued but later revised the number higher.
Mostly women and children were on-board, some stick-thin and barely able to stand, being helped to shore. One refugee told reuters that the group had been turned back from Malaysia three times and at one point there was a fight on board between the passengers and the crew.
Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya as citizens, and they face severe curbs on their movement as well as access to jobs, healthcare and education.
Lieutenant Commander Sohail Rana, incharge of Teknaf station of Bangladesh coastguard, told Al Jazeera they handed a total of 396 rescued Rohingya refugees to the UNHCR.
“The UNHCR will keep them in quarantine for the next 14 days in a camp inside Bangladesh,” he said, “After that, they will be sent back to their respective homes in Rohingya camps inside Bangladesh.”
Louise Donovon, UNHCR spokesperson, said the organisation has received the rescued refugees from the coast guard authorities.
“They will be kept inside medical facilities established in the Rohingya camps. If none of them show COVID-19 symptoms in the next two weeks, they will be sent to the transfer centre and subsequently to their homes inside the camps in Bangladesh.”
The designated Bangladesh government’s official of Teknaf region said the refugees could not reach Malaysia because of the ramped up security following the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the border and coastguards of all of the countries have ramped up their vigilance. Hence, the refugees on the boat couldn’t get down on the Malaysian shore.”