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Dozens of Rohingya rescued from hull of capsized boat

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Dozens of Rohingya were rescued Thursday after spending the night on the overturned hull of a capsized boat off the Indonesian coast, according to media reports, as an international charity expressed alarm about the numbers of unaccompanied Rohingya minors making the perilous voyage.

The refugees, part of Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority, were part of the increasing numbers fleeing, for the most part, from overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, to seek a new life elsewhere in the region.

A search-and-rescue ship set off from Banda Aceh in northern Indonesia on Wednesday evening, hours after the wooden boat capsized, and rescued 59 men, women and children around midday Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Ten other people were rescued by fishing boats, it added.

It is unclear how many people were originally on board the vessel, though six of the survivors rescued by fishermen estimated the number to be between 60 and 100.

Almost 4,500 Rohingya embarked on dangerous journeys by sea last year in hopes of reaching other countries in Southeast Asia, according to the U.N. refugee agency’s figures from January. Of those, 569 were reported dead or missing, the highest numbers since 2014.

In 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a deadly crackdown on the long-persecuted and stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, killing about 10,000 people and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, in what the U.N. human rights chief at the time described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

But for many Rohingya, the crisis is far from over.

According to the U.N. refugee agency figures, almost 1 million Rohingya refugees remain in Bangladesh — more than half of them children. In the camps, violence has increased as Rohingya militant groups turned on each other, The Washington Post reported last year.

Around 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine state, “where they continue to suffer severe rights restrictions and the threat of further violence,” Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said last year. In February, Human Rights Watch warned that renewed fighting in Rakhine had caused civilian casualties and forced 100,000 people — many of them already displaced — to flee their homes.

On Thursday, Save the Children reported a “worrying rise” in the number of unaccompanied Rohingya children arriving in Indonesia. The organization analyzed figures from the U.N. refugee agency and found that around 250 unaccompanied children arrived in Indonesia in the last three months of 2023 — an increase of 78 percent compared to the rest of the year.

Sultana Begum, Save the Children’s Asia regional head of humanitarian policy, said in a telephone interview Thursday that deteriorating conditions inside the refugee camps in Bangladesh have forced many to consider the dangerous journeys.

Rohingya living in the camps have little freedom of movement, lack access to formal education and face increased hunger and malnutrition following cuts to food rations, she said, while violence and insecurity are also growing.

“People are really desperate. They’ve resorted to marrying off girls in high numbers [and] sending out boys to work,” Begum said. “Getting on the boats is really a last resort for them in order to try and get to somewhere where they think they may have a better life.”

Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention, it has so far allowed the boats to land. But most countries in the region do not accept Rohingya as refugees, and some have pushed boats back, she added.

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