DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Wednesday renewed calls for international pressure on Myanmar to enable the repatriation of Rohingya refugees amid an alarming increase in deadly boat journeys by sea.
The number of Rohingya attempting to cross the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal has seen a four-fold surge, according to data released by the UNHCR on Tuesday. More than 3,500 people attempted to cross the waters in 2022, compared with 770 a year earlier.
The UNHCR has also recorded “an alarming rise in the death toll,” as more than 340 Rohingya died or went missing at sea in 2022, making it one of the deadliest years since 2017, when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh to escape a deadly military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Most of the Rohingya boats in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh, “highlighting the growing sense of desperation amongst Rohingya in those two countries,” the UNHCR said.
“Those who have disembarked report that they undertook these dangerous sea journeys in an effort to find protection, security, family reunification and livelihoods in other countries.”
While many Rohingya continue to flee Myanmar, those who found refuge in Bangladesh are leaving in search of better living conditions. Mmore than 1.2 million Rohingya live in squalid Bangladeshi camps, most of them in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region that with their arrival became the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Despite multiple attempts by Bangladeshi authorities, UN-backed programs for repatriation or resettlement to third countries have failed to take off, which according to the country’s top official for refugees, is fueling the growing crisis.
“The repatriation of the Rohingya is the only solution to this crisis. There is no alternative,” Mizanur Rahman, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.
“Our appeal to the international community is to put more pressure on the Myanmar government to take their people back as soon as possible by creating a conducive environment in Rakhine state.”
Rahman said that the number of refugees embarking on perilous sea journeys in search of a better life is likely to further increase given the situation.
Conditions in the camps are deteriorating amid a drop in international aid for refugees since 2020, and Bangladesh, a developing country that itself is facing multiple post-pandemic challenges and spends an estimated $1.2 billion a year to host the Rohingya, is struggling to cope with the surge in numbers.
The UNHCR has called for a “humanitarian responsibility” in the region to evenly distribute the Rohingya among various countries.
“The current crisis in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea is a crisis of solidarity,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said on Tuesday.
“The region and the international community need to support efforts to address the root causes of displacement in Myanmar. Until these are resolved, refugees will continue to undertake dangerous journeys in search of safety.”