Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR warns of growing danger for stranded boat people in South-East Asia

Briefing notes

UNHCR warns of growing danger for stranded boat people in South-East Asia

19 May 2015

Time is running out for thousands of people in distress at sea as countries in South-East Asia deliberate over how to respond. It is of life-saving importance that governments in the region act to urgently rescue and disembark these vulnerable people.

We estimate that nearly 4,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh remain stranded at sea with dwindling supplies on board. This includes some 2,000 men, women and children stranded on at least five boats near the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts for more than 40 days. Unconfirmed reports suggest the number could be higher.

In Myanmar several hundred people have abandoned their journeys and returned to Rakhine state after paying smugglers on board an average of 200,000 to 300,000 kyat ($182 - $273) each for re-entry. Their reports of food shortages, dehydration and violence on board are consistent with reports from arrivals in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Since the weekend there have been no new reports of landings elsewhere in the region. In the last nine days, a total of 1,396 people have landed in Indonesia, 1,107 in Malaysia and 106 in southern Thailand.

In Indonesia's Aceh province where UNHCR is currently registering Rohingya arrivals at Langsa, survivors have spoken of having been abandoned by the crew and being left adrift for days until authorities they were unable to identify provided food and water before pushing their boat away. As supplies ran low, a fight broke out between passengers, resulting in deaths and people being thrown overboard. UNHCR cannot verify these claims, but has sought medical attention for the wounded among this group.

In Malaysia some arrivals currently in detention in Kedah state told us they were kidnapped or lured by false promises to board the smugglers' boats. They knew of other passengers who died at sea as a result of beatings by the crew, starvation and illness.

Given such accounts, as well as disembarking such boats, UNHCR has sought - with the governments in South-East Asia - urgent medical attention, assistance and protection. Those who have returned to Myanmar should be not be punished for irregular departure.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Malaysia, Yante Ismail on mobile +601 3 352 6286
  • In Indonesia, Mitra Salima Suryono on mobile +62 818 157 962
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106