Death of thirty Rohingyas during the 7-month ordeal at sea could have been avoided if countries in the region allowed them to disembark earlier, says UNHCR
Three of the 293 Rohingyas, who arrived in Indonesia after a seven-month ordeal at sea, have died, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), expressing sadness over their deaths.
Among the arrivals, one young man and two young women – all under the age of 25 – have now passed away, said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
She also said that if the Rohingyas were allowed to disembark earlier, the lives of 30 Rohingyas, who died during the journey, could have been saved.
“We are also deeply concerned about the health of many others in the group of 293 people, more than a third of whom are identified as in need of hospitalization and medical care. The overwhelming majority of the group [four out of five] are women and children and approximately half are girls under the age of 18,” said the spokesperson.
“Many children in the group are without their parents, and others are not accompanied by any guardian. At least one boy, aged 12, was left without a caregiver during the journey when his father died,” Mantoo said.
More than 30 people are reported to have died during the journey at sea, which started in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and lasted for seven months, she said, adding that those who survived are in a fragile physical condition and have suffered serious trauma.
“This tragic episode serves as a stark reminder to states in the region that prompt action to provide a safe port could have saved dozens of lives. UNHCR commends the Government of Indonesia and the local community in Aceh for receiving the group and mobilizing support to rapidly meet their immediate basic needs,” said the spokesperson.
All of the new arrivals have returned negative rapid tests for Covid-19, but they are suffering from a range of other medical conditions believed to be caused by exposure, malnutrition, and all that they endured at sea.
Having been repeatedly turned away and refused disembarkation in the region, many are showing symptoms consistent with beriberi disease, a preventable condition caused by acute vitamin deficiency.
With limited space and resources available in local health facilities, we are working with local authorities in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, as well as the Indonesian Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners. Arrangements are currently being made to establish a medical clinic at the “BLK” site designated by Indonesian authorities for temporary shelter.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has deployed an emergency health team to conduct medical assessments and UNHCR has begun distributing B1 tablets for the treatment of the vitamin deficiency causing symptoms consistent with beriberi disease.
Pre-registration of the new arrivals has been delayed until later this week to allow time for medical provision.