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UNHCR seeks urgent action to provide lifesaving rescue at sea for boats adrift in the Andaman Sea 

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UNHCR seeks urgent action to provide lifesaving rescue at sea for boats adrift in the Andaman Sea 

2 December 2023

BANGKOK — UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is making an urgent appeal to all countries in the region, particularly those in the area surrounding the Andaman Sea, to swiftly deploy their full search and rescue capacities in response to reported vessels in distress with hundreds of Rohingya at risk of perishing.  

While all details are not fully known, UNHCR has received reports from various sources of a distress situation at sea, where two overcrowded boats have engine failures and are now aimlessly drifting in unseaworthy vessels in the Andaman Sea. Weather conditions over the coming days are unpredictable with cyclones being an unfortunate, but real, possibility. Combined, the two boats carry approximately 400 individuals.  

Another boat with 150 Rohingya was reported to have arrived in Sabang, an island north of Aceh early Saturday morning. Many more are reported to be still in distress in the open sea. 

UNHCR is concerned that food and water may be running out and there is a significant risk of fatalities in the coming days if people are not rescued and disembarked to safety. In line with the principle of non-refoulement,  international obligations under the Laws of the Sea and  longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea must be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status of the persons in need of rescue.  

UNHCR commends Indonesia for respecting its international commitments by allowing more than 1,000 individuals to disembark since 14 November. Indonesia's example of solidarity and humanity needs to be followed by other States in the region.

UNHCR reiterates its call for a comprehensive regional response to address these perilous maritime movements. Since 2022 until today more than 570 people including Rohingya refugees have been reported as dead or missing at sea.   

The UN Refugee Agency warns again that many more might die under the watch of many coastal States, without timely rescue and disembarkation to the nearest place of safety.   

UNHCR and partners stand ready to support in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance for those disembarked.