Rohingya Survivors Say They Floated at Sea for 25 Days

Injured Rohingya from Burma rest inside a naval ship, after being rescued, in Galle Feb. 17. The navy said it rescued 32 Burmese nationals who were stranded after their wooden vessel begun to sink in the deep seas off the eastern coast. (Photo: Reuters)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Burma boat survivors rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy last week say they floated for 25 days at sea and 97 people died of starvation after Thailand’s navy intercepted them and forcibly removed their boat’s engine. The Thai navy has denied the allegation.

Thirty-two men and a boy now detained at an immigration detention center near Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, were rescued last Saturday when their dilapidated wooden vessel began sinking while making a perilous journey to Malaysia.

All are Rohingya Muslims who are regarded as illegal immigrants in Burma from Bangladesh, and say they do not want to return to Burma.

The survivors were suffering from serious dehydration when they were rescued about 250 miles off Sri Lanka’s east coast. The Sri Lanka navy said they were alerted to the sinking vessel by a fisherman.

“The journey was dangerous, but we had to do that … as we fear for our lives, no jobs, and big fighting,” one of the survivors, Shofiulla, told AP.

Sectarian violence in western Burma has killed hundreds of people and displaced 100,000 more since June. The Muslim Rohingya speak a Bengali dialect and resemble Bangladeshis, with darker skin than most people in Burma, which is mostly Buddhist. They are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are heavily discriminated against.

The United Nations estimates the Rohingya population in Burma at 800,000, but the Burma government does not recognize them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. Most are denied citizenship and have no passports, though many of their families have lived in the country for generations. Bangladesh also refuses to accept them as citizens.

Shofiulla, 24, said 130 people were on the boat when the journey to Malaysia started on Jan. 10. Each had paid $465.

After 10 days’ travel, he said the boat reached the Thai border when two boats from the Thai navy intercepted them. Shofiulla said the sailors took their engine.

“Then we (had) no food, no rations … no water. We drank only sea water,” he said, adding the bodies of the 97 who died over the next 25 days were put into the sea.

Col. Thanathip Sawangsaeng, a Thailand Defense Ministry spokesman, denied the allegations.

“This is absolutely not true. The Thai Navy officers would have not done that,” he said, adding that similar accusations have arisen in the past, including claims that the Thai Navy had abused the refugees. “The Royal Thai Navy commander has previously made it clear that the Thai officers have treated the boat people according to humanitarian principles.” “There are two approaches in handling the Rohingya: giving them food and help before letting them carry on their sea journey or prosecute them for illegal entry. However, it’s not possible that the Thai Navy would have done what they were alleged of doing.”

The Thai army said last month that two senior officers had been suspended pending investigations into alleged involvement in trafficking Rohingya people fromBurma into other countries.

Shofiulla said he is a second-year student studying micro-biology, but that his university was closed last July after the fighting erupted. “We can’t go back to our country … our government kills Muslims… we are afraid to go back. We want to go to a safe place,” said Shofiulla, who appeared to be the only English-speaking person in the group.

He said they wanted to go to Malaysia to find jobs, following in the footsteps of others from his village. He added 25 people were in the detention center while eight were still in hospital.

Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Controller Chulananda Perera said his department has informed the Burma embassy, seeking their cooperation in identifying the survivors to begin the process of sending them back but had not received a response.

There was no immediate comment from the Burma embassy in Colombo.


6 Responses to Rohingya Survivors Say They Floated at Sea for 25 Days

  1. ……..Col. Thanathip Sawangsaeng, a Thailand Defense Ministry spokesman, denied the allegations.“This is absolutely not true. The Thai Navy officers would have not done that,” he said, ……. Polygraph needle leaps up and down crazily.

  2. I believed those people were originally from Bangladesh. This is not the first time who claim them self as Burmese/ Myanmar refuge and they might tell that they fled from Myanmar because of they have been persecuted by the Burmese Army and Burmese people. I hope the nearest Myanmar Ambassador will find out where was these people original come from.

  3. 1989 to 1990 , I travel a round the place where they mention a bout Rohingya place in Rakhaing area including rural area . In that time there are some 50 people who called themself Rohingya liberation army and who claim that they fight against Bangladesh because they did not accept them as citizen of Bangladesh. Now they claim a gain as Burma citizen. I understand why they did , because Bangladesh have over 110 million population within the same size of Rangoon division area in Burma. United Nation help them for population control by giving them birth control pill, but that pill was not used for their own population control and abused by some for making money . That forced the Bangladesh over crowed and Bangladesh citizen have to find some where to live, and that have to spill over to Burma .They Just take advantage of Burma government human right violation. So whether Burma can take population spill over of Bangladesh or not is the big question for international community and the Burma Government.

    • Salai Tin Mawng Oo II, I totally agreed with you. Bangladesh is over populated and a few useable lands because of most fertile lands are submerging every year by tropical Cyclones, heavy rain and flood from Ganges River. So Poor landless farmers from Bangladesh invading to neighboring states are not unusual.. I believe British Government is morally responsible for Bangladesh peoples and native peoples of Assam, Manipur, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Rakhine state as well. British colony Government had created Bangladesh (East Pakistan) with land (CHT) from Rakhine State. Now Bengali peoples of over populated Bangladesh are threatening stability and harmony of society in neighboring states.
      British should negotiate with Indian Government for settling landless poor farmers from Bangladesh and resettling illegal Bengali settlers from Assam, Manipur, CHT and RAkhine states on some of Andaman Islands. . It’ll be win win situation. Andaman Islands have lot of fertile and uncultivated lands. Developing those lands with labor of Bengali farmers from Bangladesh and illegal Bengali Migrants from its neighboring state by modern farming technology from UN and developed country will bring billions dollars income for Indian Government and the generations of landless poor Bengali farmers’ living standard will improve in future. They do not need to risk their lives by crossing open sea with unseaworthy boat. Also it will eliminate unwanted social unrest problems in neighboring stats.
      UN and world community need to find resolution for Illegal Bengali migrant problem. It’s urgent needed. Bangladesh Government has urgently need population control program and UN must assist corrupted Sheikh Hasina Government.

  4. I’m really sorry for those Bengali peoples who are escaping for hardship in Bangladesh for better future in another country is end up with such as tragedy. It’s very sad too because lost of lives and hopeless and helplessly drifting in the open sea without food and water for nearly a month. In the other source said, they are mostly from Bangladesh and only a few peoples are from Rakhine state. They are going to seeking refugee as Rohingya ethnic from Rakhine in Malaysia.
    Now illegal Bengali migrant problem is not only problem for Rakhine, Chitagong Hill Tracts, Assam and Manipur. UN needs to find solution for Bengali peoples from Bangladesh illegally migration other country and lost of lives at sea.
    UN and world developed countries must help Bangladesh. The country is over populated and less opportunity for poor peoples. Most of country’s lands are flooding every year. I’m surprise those Bengali peoples moving into Assam, Manipur, CHT and Rakhine state for better lives.
    I believe those poor landless Bengali farmers should be given chance by allowing migrating to India Territory Andaman Islands rather than risky illegal migrating to other country by unseaworthy boat.
    Once Andaman Island was earmark for resettling Anglo Burma and Anglo India peoples from Burma and Indian by British Colony Government.
    British Government should negotiate with Indian Government for to resettle illegal Bengali migrants’ peoples from Rakhine, CHT, Assam and Manipur states.

  5. There are a lot of Refugees from Myanmar at other countries. There are a lot of Myanmar people migrated to other countries. If Myanmar people, we can stay at other people country, why people like Rohingyas can’t stay at our country? Are we Buddish? Are we doing the right thing? We should be an example for other people. Be kind to people regardless of skin color, religion, race and etc

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