COLOMBO, Apr 30 – Sri Lanka’s coastguard Sunday detained an Indian boat which had illegally entered the island’s territorial waters and rescued 30 Rohingya refugees including 16 children who were on board, an official said. The dhow operated by two Indians had entered Sri Lanka’s northern waters after crossing the sea border, said navy spokesman Chaminda Walakuluge.
“The coastguard noticed that there were very small children on board and escorted the dhow to a port and provided them with emergency assistance,” Walakuluge told AFP. He said seven men, seven women and 16 children were on board, in addition to the two-man Indian crew who had been detained pending investigations.
“There was a 15-day-old baby and a four-month-old child on board,” Walakuluge said. “We have taken them to port and provided food and medical attention.” He said it appeared that the passengers had left India, where they had lived for about four years as refugees. They were handed over to local authorities to decide further action.
Investigators suspect that the crew were trying to bring the Rohingya to Sri Lanka. The Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine are denied citizenship and face brutal discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country. Thousands have sought refuge in other countries in the region.
Four years ago Sri Lanka’s navy rescued 138 refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar whose boat had been drifting off Sri Lanka for over 10 days. The United Nations Human Rights Council last month agreed to send a fact-finding mission to Myanmar to investigate claims that police and soldiers carried out a bloody crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine.
More than 120,000 Rohingya have languished in grim displacement camps ever since bouts of religious violence between Muslims and Buddhists ripped through the state in 2012. Most are not allowed to leave the squalid encampments, where they live in dilapidated shelters with little access to food, education and health care. — AFP