Home World She fled house to flee violence. Now she's been misplaced at sea...

She fled house to flee violence. Now she’s been misplaced at sea for months

At sea the following morning, {the teenager} used a satellite tv for pc cellphone to name her mom, Gule Jaan, 43, to say she was heading for Malaysia on a small wood boat, filled with 87 Rohingya refugees, together with 65 girls and women.

Some had been fleeing what their households say is the elevated threat of sexual assault and rape in the course of the pandemic within the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, house to greater than 1 million displaced individuals.

The 16-year-old requested her mom to pay 40,000 taka ($470) to the trafficker for her passage to Malaysia, the place she hoped to have a greater life. Her mom was nonetheless arranging the fee when households of different passengers on board acquired a name to say the boat’s engine had failed.

They had been at sea for simply 5 days. Now, greater than two months later, the boat is lacking.

“Please, can someone let me know if my daughter is alive or dead?” mentioned Jaan. “She is a good girl and was lured by the trafficker to go on the boat.”

The passengers’ households and rights teams are asking why extra is not being carried out to save lots of the lives of these on board.

They say Indian authorities had been alerted to the passengers’ determined cries for assistance on February 20, however took 48 hours to reply with medicines, meals and water.

While they waited, 9 individuals died, the households mentioned.

Indian authorities mentioned they final delivered help to the boat in mid-March, and haven’t responded to requests for extra data on their dealings with the vessel after that date. They didn’t enable anybody to disembark.

The boat’s disappearance is compounding the distress of households in Cox’s Bazar, the place lax safety is permitting militants to enter the camps at night time to assault girls and women, based on rights teams.

Over the previous 12 months, the UNHCR mentioned extra girls and women have boarded rickety vessels to flee sexual violence inside the camps — a pattern prone to proceed because the coup throughout the border in Myanmar makes returning house an much more distant prospect.

The journey

The refugees’ voyage started within the early hours of February 11 from the shores of Teknaf in Bangladesh, the place most on board had wound up after fleeing a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s navy in 2017.

Three traffickers had been additionally on board, based on members of the family who spoke with the passengers.

  • Timeline of boat’s journey

  • February 2021

    11th: Boat leaves Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh with 90 passengers and crew.

    16th: Boat’s engine fails at sea.

    20th: Boat sails close to Indian waters and first name to assist to Indian authorities is made.

    21st (day): A ship with an Indian flag goes previous the boat however would not cease for assist. Five individuals die on the boat that day.

    21st (night): Two helicopters fly over the boat. A couple of hours later, two Indian Coast Guard ships seem on both aspect of the vessel. No contact is made and so they depart with out offering help. Three extra individuals die that day. One particular person jumps after the ship and goes lacking.

    22nd (three p.m.): Indian Coast Guard ships return and supply meals and water to the passengers, however they aren’t allowed to disembark.

  • March 2021

    Mid-March: Indian authorities offered help to the vessel till this date, however didn’t reply to additional questions.

Source: Passengers’ households, UNHCR, India Ministry of External Affairs

The boat had sufficient provides for per week, the time it will normally take to journey from Teknaf to Malaysia, they mentioned.

Bigger boats typically used for the sort of journey have desalination machines to transform salt water to ingesting water. But this boat was smaller, and didn’t have such a machine, based on the passengers’ households.

After the boat’s engine stopped on February 16, meals and water provides ran low. Over the following few days, the boat drifted nearer to Indian waters.

On the morning of February 20, Shah Alam, a 23-year-old ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugee, known as his brother in Cox’s Bazar. He mentioned the boat was within the Bay of Bengal and there wasn’t something to drink. “Brother, where can I get water to drink?” he requested.

Passengers additionally known as non-profit organizations and journalists for assist.

Their households mentioned the GPS coordinates despatched from the satellite tv for pc cellphone positioned the boat a couple of nautical miles from Indian Coast Guard headquarters within the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — an Indian territory within the Bay of Bengal.

Several NGOs instantly knowledgeable authorities in India and Bangladesh, together with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Indian Coast Guard.

The subsequent day, on February 21, a ship with Indian flags handed the boat, however didn’t cease, the passengers informed their households by way of satellite tv for pc cellphone.

The similar night, two helicopters hovered close to the boat, shut sufficient for passengers to learn the writing on the aspect. “INDIA,” it mentioned.

Family on shore: “Is the helicopter very close to you?”

Boat passenger: “A little bit far from us, a little bit far but we are shouting to seek their attention.”

Family on shore: “Is it the same one which already visited you?”

Boat passenger: “Yes, same one, and ‘India’ is written on the helicopter.”

Family on shore: “Yes, big brother is saying that, this helicopter is from India.”

Boat passenger: “The helicopter looked around four to five times here. They were very near our boat, as near as a pole’s length.”

Recorded Feb. 21 earlier than help arrived the following day. Source: Robi Alam


A couple of hours later after the helicopters departed, two Indian Coast Guard ships pulled up close to the boat. But the passengers informed their households the ships did not make contact with them or provide any meals or water.

“People jumped into the sea and they drank salty water (out of desperation), and they died here … many have died here,” mentioned Shah Alam, based on audio recordings of calls made on February 21 heard by CNN.

Shah Alam (boat passenger): “The Navy came and visited us very closely, but they are not taking us from here. We jumped into the water, but they are still not helping us.”

Recorded Feb. 21 earlier than help arrived the following day. Source: Robi Alam


Nine individuals died that day, the passengers informed their households, together with a person who disappeared beneath the waves after leaping overboard to chase the Indian Coast Guard vessel because it moved away.

The subsequent day, on February 22, Indian Coast Guard ships returned with meals and drugs.

“Everyone was very happy and relieved that they were being given food and water,” mentioned Alam’s brother Robi Alam, a Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar.

However, nobody was allowed to disembark, the refugees informed their households by way of satellite tv for pc cellphone.

“That was the last time I spoke to my brother,” Robi Alam mentioned. That day, the satellite tv for pc cellphone went useless.

The Indian Coast Guard didn’t reply to a request for remark.

An Indian authorities official mentioned India offered help to the boat till mid-March, and didn’t specify why that help stopped.

“I don’t know where they are right now,” mentioned Col. V.Okay.S Tomar, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at India’s Ministry of External Affairs for the Bangladesh and Myanmar division. “All I know is that we were providing them with food and water on the boat until mid-March, but they were not allowed to disembark from the boat until then.”

He wouldn’t touch upon why the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark.

The UNHCR mentioned the passengers want pressing assist.

“With refugees and asylum seekers having been at sea for over two months now, disembarkation is absolutely critical to saving lives,” mentioned Catherine Stubberfield, spokesperson for UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “No one can survive for long in these conditions.”

“They get picked up and raped”

Noor was 12 when she and her household fled a navy crackdown of their village within the Maungdaw district of Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017.

“Our village was burnt down, and my brother was killed, we had to flee,” mentioned Jaan, Noor’s mom, who works at a hospital run by the charity CARE Bangladesh.

“Noor never liked it here. She always wanted to do something more, but we can’t send girls anywhere here. They get picked up and raped. I think that’s why she left with the trafficker,” mentioned Jaan.

In the previous 12 months, the camp has grow to be a extra harmful place, mentioned Razia Sultana, from the Rohingya Women Welfare Society. Abductions by native gangs, sexual violence and trafficking have grow to be extra frequent, whereas Covid-19 lockdowns have shut down the one protected areas for ladies and women.

“After 5 p.m., there is no security presence in the camp,” Sultana mentioned.

“(Members of militant groups) attack the houses of any woman or girl they fancy, abduct them, either forcefully marry them, or sexually assault them.”

Sultana says households are frightened of reporting this to the authorities, as they imagine no motion will probably be taken.

The boat was carrying 90 people -- 87 Rohingya refugees and  three traffickers.

Any hope the refugees could have had of returning house is fading, too.

On February 1, the identical navy leaders accused of finishing up genocide towards the Rohingya individuals in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state seized management of the nation. The Myanmar navy claimed to have been concentrating on terrorists when it raided Rohingya villages in 2017, forcing tons of of 1000’s to flee.

But bloodshed in current weeks, together with the taking pictures of civilian protesters, has uncovered the brutality of the navy and raised fears the nation is descending into civil struggle.

In that atmosphere, many ladies and women are weak to traffickers who promise them security and freedom in neighboring Southeastern Asian international locations like Malaysia. However, as soon as there, many are pushed into compelled marriages and home servitude, rights teams say.

“We have seen a number of cases of minor Rohingya girls being trafficked into forced marriages,” mentioned John Quinley, Senior Human Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights, an NGO that works to strengthen human rights actions in Southeast Asia. “Lots of single Rohingya men in Malaysia want to marry women from Rakhine State, and they strike deals with traffickers. It’s an exploitative process.”

Even on a protected crusing, the journey from Bangladesh to Malaysia poses dangers.

“I have spoken to girls who took the boat journey and talked about what happens to them in transit,” says Mahi Ramakrishnan, a Malaysia-based filmmaker and refugee rights activist. “There is sexual abuse, and the rapes happen in the view of everyone. The woman is pulled aside a few meters from the group and raped.”

No one’s countrymen

For these on Noor’s boat, time is working out.

There is not any lively search underway for the vessel. And even when the passengers are discovered alive, then comes the query of who will take them in.

All international locations are certain by worldwide regulation to rescue and disembark these in misery at sea. However, current examples present some international locations in southeast Asia have been unwilling to assist.

Noor asked her mother for money to pay traffickers to transport her to Malaysia.
In March 2020, a bigger boat carrying virtually 300 Rohingyas set sail from Cox’s Bazar. The passengers spent greater than six months adrift at sea and had been turned away by a number of international locations earlier than lastly being accepted by Indonesia. By then, not less than 30 individuals together with girls and youngsters had died. Many surviving girls mentioned they had been assaulted on board the vessel.
Noor’s boat was heading to Malaysia, however final June Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin mentioned the nation might not soak up Rohingya refugees, Reuters reported. Malaysia just isn’t celebration to the UN Refugee Convention and doesn’t have an asylum system regulating the standing and rights of refugees, based on the UNHCR.

The Malaysian authorities has not responded to requests for remark in regards to the lacking boat.

Bangladeshi authorities didn’t reply to request for remark from CNN, however the overseas minister, A.Okay. Abdul Momen, informed Reuters the Bangladeshi authorities expects India or Myanmar to just accept the Rohingya refugees stranded on the boat.

The UNHCR says duty for the boat lies with the nation first alerted to its state of misery. That would imply India.

“The state in which a boat in distress is first identified bears the primary responsibility for providing or ensuring a place of safety,” mentioned Stubberfield, from UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “UNHCR is deeply concerned by recent delays in rescue and disembarkation for refugees in distress at sea.”

Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, a nonprofit group that works to enhance the state of affairs of Myanmar’s Rohingya inhabitants, agreed the boat fell below India’s jurisdiction. “They had the duty to disembark them,” she mentioned. “Unfortunately, since then the boat hasn’t showed anywhere, I am so sad to say this, but it looks like they have disappeared or died at sea.”

India just isn’t celebration to the UN Refugee Convention and lacks a nationwide refugee safety construction, based on the UNHCR.
Earlier this month, India’s Supreme Court dominated that Rohingya refugees in India may be forcibly returned to Myanmar.
This ruling is counter to the precept of “non-refoulement” below worldwide regulation, which prohibits a state from returning any particular person on its territory or below its jurisdiction to a rustic the place they face persecution, based on Human Rights Watch.

For Noor’s mom, hope is fading for her daughter, and others on the boat.

“I fled with my daughter from Myanmar four years ago after my village was burnt, and today my daughter is at risk of being sent back to the same place or dying in the sea,” Jaan mentioned.

“I don’t know what’s worse.”


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