Sri Lankan navy rescues over 100 Rohingya refugees adrift in rough seas

A Sri Lanka Navy statement said 104 Myanmar nationals were found aboard a small trawler that had run into engine trouble. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka’s navy has rescued 104 Rohingya adrift off the Indian Ocean island’s northern coast, an official said on Monday, as members of the Muslim minority continue to escape violence in Myanmar and hardship in Bangladesh refugee camps.

Many Rohingya risk their lives every year by attempting to reach South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia on rickety vessels, and their numbers have surged following deteriorating conditions in the camps and last year’s military coup in Myanmar.

The boat was first detected by the Sri Lanka Navy when it was 3.5 nautical miles from shore and a search and rescue operation was launched to eventually tow the vessel to a northern harbour on Sunday night, a navy spokesperson, Captain Gayan Wickramasuriya, said.

“The people have been handed over to the police,” Capt Wickramasuriya told Reuters.

“The police will present them before a magistrate, who will decide the next step.”

A navy statement said 104 Myanmar nationals were found aboard a small trawler suspected to have originated from Myanmar, which was heading to Indonesia when it ran into engine trouble in rough seas.

Capt Wickramasuriya 39 women and 23 minors were among the rescued people, and an 80-year-old man, one mother and her two children were admitted to hospital suffering from minor sickness.

In 2018, more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a military crackdown in Myanmar that witnesses said included mass killings and rape.

Rights groups and media have documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

Myanmar authorities have said they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities. REUTERS

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