By Subir Bhaumik
New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) India is negotiating with Bangladesh to take back 81 Rohingyas whose boat drifted into its territorial waters in mid-February.
Eight Rohingyas on that boat have already died and one has gone missing, possibly drowned in the Andaman sea.
“We are in discussions with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure their safe and secure repatriation,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava has said.
However, a Bangladesh foreign ministry press release has made clear the country’s unwillingness to take back the sea-stranded Rohingyas on ground that their boat is far away from the country’s territorial waters.
But MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava has insisted that 47 of the boat’s 90 occupants possessed identity cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh, which indicated clearly they were displaced Myanmar nationals and persons of concern to UNHCR registered by the Bangladesh government.
Speaking at a video briefing Srivastava had said that on February 11, the boat sailed from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh carrying 64 women including 8 girls and 26 men including 5 boys.
“The engine of the boat failed on February 15 and since then it has been drifting. Due to the severe conditions, we understand that eight occupants have died and one of the occupants had been missing since February 15,” Srivastava said.
“When we learnt of the boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two coast guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants. Seven of them were administered IV fluids,” he added.
But Bangladesh does not seem inclined to take back these Rohingyas .
A press statement by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ( MOFA) on Saturday said that the UN news release ‘clearly specified the location of boat at Andaman Sea which lies to the southeast of Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar, west of Thailand and east of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.’
The MOFA statement said: ” The boat has been traced approx. 1700 km away from Bangladesh at a location which is approx 492 km from Myanmar, 363 km from Thailand, 281 km from Indonesia and 147 km from India. The location is far off the territorial water of Bangladesh and proximate to other littoral states.”
The statement however said that Bangladesh is respectful of its international obligations under the UNCLOS.
” On earlier occasions when other littoral countries of the region repeatedly denied access to the Rohingyas adrift on the sea, it was the Government of Bangladesh who came to the rescue of the people, who were found on our territorial water.”
“Other states, particularly those, on whose territorial water the vessel has been found, bear the primary responsibility and they should fulfill their obligation under international law and burden-sharing principle.”
So by implication, the Bangladesh foreign ministry seems to be putting the onus of rescue and relief for the Rohingyas on India.
But officials in Indian Andamans say it would only be fair for Bangladesh to take back the Rohingyas because they came from there.
They said the Indian coast guard was trying to repair the engine of the boat carrying the Rohingyas and giving them food, water and medical treatment .
” But this should be temporary. They should be sent back to where they came from and the Bangladeshi crew who were piloting the boat as part of a human trafficking gang should be punished,” said an official in the Andamans.
By Subir Bhaumik