NEWDELHI -The number of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar or Bangladesh by sea surged fivefold to more than 3,500 in 2022 from a year earlier, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday, in the deadliest year for the ethnic minority group at since 2014.
At least 348 Rohingya died or went missing as they attempted to cross the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal last year, with the figure reaching alarming levels after the sinking of a boat in December, with all 180 Rohingya Muslims on board presumed dead, the UNHCR said in a statement.
“They undertake dangerous sea journeys seeking protection, security, family reunification, and livelihoods in other countries. Growing desperation in Myanmar and Bangladesh appears to have driven the increasing numbers undertaking sea journeys in 2022,” the agency said.
The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority group that has lived in Myanmar for centuries but has been denied citizenship in the Buddhist-majority nation since 1982, are seen as illegal immigrants from South Asia.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya from Myanmar are additionally living in crowded facilities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled Myanmar after its military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.
Most boats carrying the Rohingya departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh, the UNHCR said, and those on board disembarked primarily in Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
In 2014, more than 700 people were estimated to have lost their lives or were missing with nearly 60,000 taking the risky sea journeys, an UNHCR spokesperson told Reuters.
The number of women and children undertaking the dangerous sea journeys rose by 7% last year from 2021, and comprised nearly 45% of those disembarking.