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2022 was the deadliest year at sea for the Rohingya, with 180 drowning

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A United Nations agency said today, Monday, that the persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar will rank 2022 as the deadliest at sea, after the possible sinking of a boat with 180 refugees on board.

Many have tried to flee desperate conditions in refugee camps in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which are home to nearly a million Rohingya from Myanmar, including tens of thousands who fled their homeland after a deadly military crackdown in 2017.

In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, most Rohingya are denied citizenship and are seen as illegal immigrants from South Asia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said over the weekend that it feared the boat that set off on its journey from Bangladesh at the end of November was lost at sea, with all 180 people on board presumed dead.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the ship, which was not seaworthy, may have started to break down in early December before losing contact. It was not clear where the boat started from, the agency said, but three Rohingya men, including one who fears he has lost four family members, said it set off from Bangladesh.

Already nearly 200 Rohingya are feared dead or missing at sea this year. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said: “We hope against the hope that the 180 missing persons are still alive somewhere there.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that nearly 900 Rohingya died or went missing in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in 2013 and more than 700 in 2014.

“One of the worst years for the dead and missing after 2013 and 2014,” Baloch said in 2022, adding that the number of people trying to flee has returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

“Trends show figures going back to 2020, when more than 2,400 people attempted the perilous sea crossing, leaving more than 200 dead or missing.”

Human rights groups estimate the number of Rohingya leaving Bangladesh by boat this year is more than five times higher than the previous year.

Baloch said it was not clear where exactly the boat with 180 people disappeared, nor whether the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Southeast Asia, a favored destination for the Rohingya, led to a rush of people.

Syed Rahman, 38, who fled to Malaysia in 2012 from Myanmar, said his wife, two sons, ages 17 and 13, and his 12-year-old daughter were among the missing.

“In 2017, my family came to Bangladesh to save their lives,” Abdul Rahman said, referring to the Rohingya exodus that year from Myanmar.

“But now they are gone… I am absolutely devastated,” said Abdul Rahman. “We Rohingya have been left to die…on the land, in the sea. Everywhere.”

Earlier this month, two Rohingya activist groups in Myanmar said up to 20 people had died of starvation or thirst on what UNHCR said was a separate boat that had been stranded at sea for two weeks off the coast of India. The boat, with at least 100 people on board, was said to be in Malaysian waters.

Amid the frightening deaths, some boats were landed or rescued at sea.

On Monday, the International Organization for Migration said in a statement that 57 Rohingya disembarked in the Indonesian region of Aceh Besar early on December 25 with the support of local community members. It added that the men-only boat was believed to have set off from Bangladesh and spent nearly a month drifting at sea.

Indonesian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two boats carrying a total of 230 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, landed on the shores of the Indonesian province of Aceh in November, while this month the Sri Lankan navy rescued 104 Rohingya off the northern coast of the Indian Ocean island.

“Life in the camp is full of uncertainties, and there is no hope of returning home soon,” said Mohammed Imran, a former Rohingya community leader who returned to Bangladesh from Malaysia.

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