‘We Are Dying’: Stranded in the Andaman Sea, Rohingya Refugees on a Phone Call

"Right now, we are just floating in the water. We throw the dead off the boat," a passenger said.

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“No, we have not found any ships or help. Right now, we are just floating in the water. Everyone is hungry and we are dying without any food or water,” said a passenger on a phone call, while stranded on a boat, carrying over 160 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Malaysia. 

The Quint accessed a voice call dated 11 December between a passenger on the boat and the family member of a refugee via The Azadi Project, an organisation that “helps refugee women by teaching digital skills that facilitate their integration into the local labor force." 

The refugees undertook the risky journey on 25 November when they boarded a “non-seaworthy vessel” from a coast near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where over a million Rohingyas had escaped to in 2017 following the genocide of the ethnic group in the neighbouring state of Myanmar.

On 1 December, however, engines on the boat broke down. The vessel has been adrift since then. 

News of the stranded boat has set alarm bells ringing with human rights activists and groups, as well as theUnited NationsHigh 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.


‘We Are Dying’ 

With no food, no water, and no help from the countries in the region, families of the refugees have been raising alarm and trying to seeking help for their kin. 

In the short conversation between the passenger and the family member, the passenger can be heard replying:

“No, we have not found any ships or help. Right now, we are just floating in the water. We throw the dead off the boat. Everyone is hungry, we are dying without any food or water.”

The family member asks, “You had said you will get to a ship by tomorrow. Have you not reached there yet?” 

“No, we did not get to the ship. The engine is not working and we are drifting because of the wind,” the passenger replies.  

Though the people on the purported call are not related, the refugee calling from Bangladesh wishes to know about his sister Fatima and whether those on board have received any help. 

He says, “Yesterday I was told that the wind will hopefully carry the boat slowly, that is why I am asking since one of my sisters is also there.” 

The passenger however is running out of “charge” and says, “I will talk to you later because there is no charge in my phone.” 

The family member again pleads the passenger to let him speak to his sister. On being denied due to the “no charge in the phone,” he helplessly cuts the call after saying, “Okay. Don't worry.” 

‘We Know the Risks But...’ 

“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,” Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, had earlier told The Quint

His 28-year-old sister Khatemonesa and her five-year-old daughter are among the 160 Rohingya refugees on the “non-seaworthy vessel.” 

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.   

Read The Quint’s interview with the family members of the stranded refugees here

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Topics:  Bangladesh   Myanmar   Malaysia 

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