April 16 (UPI) -- Officials said a ship with almost 400 Rohingya refugees that left for Malaysia two months ago has turned up in the Baharchara Union region near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, and witnesses report dozens died on board.
Residents of the Ukhiva-Teknaf refugee camp had hoped to reach Malaysia but were turned away because of new restrictions set in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bangladesh Coast Guard was notified of the ship.
One of the rescued refugees, Md Jobair, said 28 people died on the ship without food or water while it was adrift on its return to Bangladesh.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar in recent years, which is under investigation by the International Court of Justice over accusations of genocide against the largely Muslim ethnic group.
Documentary filmmaker Shafiur Rahman said the refugee boat tried to dock in Malaysia on three different occasions, only to be turned back each time.
"Many died and many are dead on the boat," Rahman tweeted."Some Bangladesh locals are fearful of helping in case of coronavirus infection."
Arakan Project director Chris Lewa believes other boats with Rohingya refugees may still be stranded at sea.
"Rohingya may encounter closed borders supported by a xenophobic public narrative," Lewa said. "COVID-19 cannot be used to deny access to the territory to desperate refugees in distress. Another maritime crisis in the Andaman Sea ... is unacceptable."