UN agencies fear about 70 missing or dead from capsized boat

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Rohingya refugees rescued from a capsized boat rest at a temporary shelter in Meulaboh on March 22. (AP)

MEULABOH, Indonesia, March 23, (AP): About 70 Muslim Rohingya refugees are feared missing or dead from a boat that made a grueling sea voyage from Bangladesh and sank off Indonesia’s coast this week with 75 survivors, UN agencies said.
A statement issued jointly by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, and the International Office for Migration, or IOM, said they were “extremely concerned about the scale of potential loss of life,” saying that accounts from survivors indicated about 150 people originally were aboard.
That likely would have included a crew of about five people, who apparently abandoned the vessel and whose whereabouts are unknown. Two survivors told The Associated Press on Friday that the captain and four crew abandoned the boat for another one when the refugee vessel started to sink.
Indonesian fishermen raised the alarm about the stricken vessel Wednesday when they started rescuing its passengers, and an Indonesian search and rescue ship on Thursday pulled remaining people from the capsized hull about 22 kilometers (14 miles) off the western coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province.
The UN joint statement did not specify the exact number of people believed lost, but a website maintained by UNHCR said 75 people were “reported dead or missing” from a boat whose details match the one that capsized Wednesday.
“If confirmed this would be the biggest loss of life so far this year,” said the statement, referring to a steady stream of boats carrying Rohingya seeking to escape crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
There has been a notable increase in Rohingya refugee arrivals in Indonesia over the past year. The 2,300 refugees who arrived in 2023 were more than the previous four years combined, the statement said.
The survivors from the boat are 44 men, 22 women and nine children. A few were taken to a local hospital for treatment but most were sent to a temporary shelter in the Aceh’s Barat district. Several told UNHCR workers they had lost family members on the journey.

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