The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Is Heading to Asia to Rescue Rohingya Migrants in the Bay of Bengal
by Owen James Burke
Above: “An exhausted refugee rests his eyes before being brought on board the Phoenix in the Mediterranean.” Photo: Christopher Miller/Mashable.
The Rohingyas are a group of Muslims living in the Rakhine state of Myanmar (Burma), bordering Bangladesh. Effectively, they are a nationless people, and are considered to be among the most politically persecuted religious minorities in the world. Like migrants in the Mediterranean, they’re taking to the high seas in decrepit old vessels, and they need help.
Above: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Photo: AP Photo/S. Yulinnas.
Each year at the end of monsoon season, thousands of Rohingyas board smugglers’ boats and set out on the Bay of Bengal in hopes of crossing out of Myanmar and into–or near enough to–Aceh in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, where they have a chance at being rescued by fishermen. Unfortunately, many of these vessels don’t make it, and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that over 1,100 people have drowned or otherwise perished trying to make the trip since 2014. This year, that number is expected to increase drastically (34%, according to the UNHCR).
Malta-based MOAS, a privately-funded and operated refugee rescue organization whose vessel the M/Y Phoenix has been operating on the Mediterranean during summer months (winter is dangerous, and there are less migrants taking to the sea then) since 2013 and has so far saved over 11,500 people from almost certain death, is now sending the ship to the Bay of Bengal as soon as the monsoons let up and the number of migrants there inflates with the calming seas.
“Our job in the Mediterranean is not over but we now feel it is our responsibility over the winter months to use the M.Y. Phoenix in another part of the world facing an equally challenging but severely underreported crisis,” says MOAS co-founder Christopher Catrambone. Through this action, MOAS will be shedding light on another aspect of this pressing global phenomenon in an area where there is no known NGO rescue presence at sea. Once the monsoon rains subside, tens of thousands of Rohingya and others are expected to resume their dangerous sea crossings.”