Stranded in Andaman Sea: Families of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Raise Alarm

Khan's sister and niece are among 160 Rohingya refugees, stuck on a boat in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

5 min read

“We know the journey is filled with risks but here we have no right to education or work. This is why people are taking such huge risks and fleeing… Hoping some country will give us refuge,” said Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp.  

It’s this risk that the 25-year-old’s sister Khatemonesa, her five-year-old daughter, and at least another 160 Rohingya refugees took on 25 November when they boarded a “non-seaworthy vessel” from a coast near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to Malaysia.  

Khan's sister and niece are among 160 Rohingya refugees, stuck on a boat in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

Rezuwan Khan's 28-year-old sister Khatemonesa, and her five-year-old daughter.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)


Since 1 December, the boat and its 160 occupants have been stuck somewhere in the middle of the Andaman Sea. 

Till 10 December at least, there was some contact – a phone call or two via a satellite phone. “Since then, we have not been able to get in touch with those on board at all,” said Rezuwan.  

News of the stranded boat has set alarm bells ringing with human rights activists and groups, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urging “countries in the region to immediately rescue and safely disembark” the group of refugees. The UNHCR issued this statement on 8 December.

'My Brother Wanted To Speak Up for Rohingyas But'

Rahauddin, 28, another Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, told The Quint that his 18-year-old brother Sayed-ul-Amin is also on the boat.

"My brother wanted to be someone who could speak up for Rohingyas but he couldn’t fulfil his dreams at the Cox’s Bazar camp due to multiple obstacles. He left because he wanted to help the family financially. Rohingya children suffer tragedies that they should not face at such a young age,” he added.

Khan's sister and niece are among 160 Rohingya refugees, stuck on a boat in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

18-year-old Sayed-ul-Amin.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The Quint spoke to Priyali Sur, founder of The Azadi Project, who had been in touch with Aminullah, a Rohingya refugee who said that nine of his his family members are on the boat, including his 16-year-old daughter Firuja Khatun.

The Azadi Project, as stated on their website, "helps refugee women by teaching digital skills that facilitate their integration into the local labor force."

Sur said, “Aminullah told me that most people on board are in a ‘serious condition‘ as they have run out of food and drinkable water.”

Khan's sister and niece are among 160 Rohingya refugees, stuck on a boat in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

16-year-old Farija Khatun.

(Photo: The Azadi Project)

But where is the boat now? Rezuwan, Aminullah, Rahauddin, and families of others on board are searching for answers. 

‘Food and Water Shortage; Need for Urgent Rescue’ 

Believed to be near Malaysian waters, the boat left from Bangladesh on 25 November, where over a million Rohingyas had escaped to in 2017 following the genocide of the ethnic group in the neighbouring state of Myanmar

Rezuwan said that since Malaysia doesn’t let refugee boats disembark on their shores, refugees first go to Indonesia and then chart their ways to Malaysia.

Family members of those on board say that urgency for a rescue operation increases by the day as the refugees on board face an extreme shortage of food and water, while sea water leaks into their boat. 

“We were hardly able to talk for more than a few seconds due to poor network and only got the location of the vessel,” Sabber Kyaw Min, Director Of Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, told The Quint.

The boat has been adrift since its engines broke down on 1 December, Arab News reported.

As Rezuwan seeks answers about his sister’s whereabouts, he shares her one-month-old photo with anyone willing to help or spread the word. “Her other daughter is at the camp in Bangladesh only and she can’t stop crying,” he said.  

He told The Quint that he has reached out to the UNHCR, and the Malaysian and the Thai governments for help. 

“The broker, who organises these journeys, told me about the stranded boat on 4 December. This is when I found out about the gravity of the situation and started seeking help,” said Rezuwan.

Apart from urging countries to attempt a quick rescue, the UNHCR also stated that “unverified information suggests a number of Rohingya refugees have already lost their lives, among them, women and children.”  

Meanwhile, in a phone call with The Quint, Rezuwan claimed that “at least eight people have died so far, including two children.” 

He claimed that the boat’s captain told him that “a government ship had come close to the boat a few days ago, and seeing it three people jumped into the water in a bid to get rescued.” He claimed that they were not rescued and drowned.

'We Have Lost All Hope'

“No one has reached out to help us so far. We must not let them die in the sea. The international community is again failing to protect Rohingya refugees,” said Rezuwan.   

He added that the reason why people take such risks is because of the abysmal living conditions in the camp in Bangladesh, and the fear of being killed in Myanmar – a country they call home but can never return to.  

“At the camp, we are treated like sub-humans. Most of the refugees are desperate to flee. We are physically and emotionally tortured in the camps, sometimes by insurgents, sometimes by others,” he said.    

Rezuwan and his family moved to Bangladesh from Myanmar over five years ago. “When we got to the camp, we expected repatriation will happen someday but after the Myanmar Junta’s coup last year, we have lost all hope. We have been living this life for five years, which is why everyone wants to flee,” he said.   

‘He Wanted To Help His Family Financially'

Rahauddin, who works as a volunteer for UNHCR- Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC), told The Quint, "Sayed-ul-Amin is in class nine. Though Rohingya refugees are not allowed to get education, there are educated teachers in the camp who conduct classes. His mother is inconsolable. He’s so young after all.”  

He added that despite working as a volunteer for UNHRC-BRAC, he only gets a monthly stipend of USD 70.


This news of 160 Rohingya refugees stranded in the sea came just a couple days after the UNHCR's "recent call for support and solidarity amid the rise in risky Andaman Sea crossings."  

The UN Refugee Agency had highlighted on 2 December:

"Some 1,920 people, mostly Rohingya, travelled by sea from January to November 2022, from Myanmar and Bangladesh, compared to only 287 in 2021, a more than six-fold increase."

The statement further reads, "The UNHCR warns that attempts at these journeys are exposing people to grave risks and fatal consequences. Tragically, 119 people have been reported dead or missing on these journeys, this year alone.” 

In a statement by non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), "MSF is aware of one or more boat(s) carrying some 160 refugees, most likely Rohingya people, floating at sea near Malaysian waters. Some people on board have reportedly died due to lack of food or water."  

The organisation called on "the new Malaysian Government to urgently allow the safe disembarkation of refugees suffering the effects of a regional humanitarian crisis and fleeing to seek safety."  

The charity also called "on governments in the region to show solidarity with the Rohingya, intensify efforts to address the refugee crisis at its origin so that the Rohingya do not need to risk their lives to seek protection elsewhere."

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