Dramatic increase in Andaman Sea crossings, warns UN refugee agency

The Southeast Asian waterway is one of the deadliest in the world and more than 1,900 people have already made the journey since January – six times more than in 2020.

‘Grave risks’ at sea

“UNHCR warns that attempting these journeys exposes people to grave risks and fatal consequences, said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo. “Tragically, 119 people have been reported dead or missing on these journeys this year alone.”

Most of those risking their lives are Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in their hundreds of thousands in 2017 to escape military persecution.

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In an appeal for help from governments in the region, UNHCR said recent arrivals include more than 200 people in North Aceh, Indonesia, where authorities have allowed them to leave and provide shelter. Ms. Mantoo said the agency welcomes and appreciates their efforts.

UN support

Refugees who left safely on the Indonesian coast from the two ships, two weeks ago, are currently, somewhat ironically, hosted in a former immigration office in Lhokseumawe.

UNHCR, with the UN Migration Agency, IOM and partners, is on the ground, the spokesman said.

“We are working closely with the local authorities to support the refugees, including through registration, to provide for their basic needs and work to ensure safe and adequate accommodation for the two groups.”

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Much more adrift

UNHCR has also received unverified reports of more boats with desperate individuals adrift at sea requiring life-saving rescue and attention, she said.

With increasing desperation and vulnerability forcing more refugees to make these deadly journeys, UNHCR and humanitarian partners emphasize the need for increased regional and international cooperation to save lives and share responsibility.

Indonesia currently hosts nearly 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers mostly from Afghanistan, Somalia and Myanmar and should not be alone in rescuing and disembarking people who run at sea, Ms Mantoo added.

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“It is imperative that states in the region uphold their commitments made in 2005 under the Bali Process to find collective solutions to these desperate journeys.”

In 2016, Asia-Pacific governments pledged to do more to prevent people from dying on such journeys after 5,000 men, women and children were abandoned by people smugglers in the Andaman Sea, and left adrift, starving and sick for months.


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