At least a dozen Rohingya refugees, most of which are children, drowned and scores more were missing Monday after their overloaded boat capsized in the latest tragedy to strike those fleeing violence in Myanmar.
Authorities in Bangladesh said the boat was carrying between 60 and 100 people when it overturned and sank late Sunday in rough seas. Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) official Abdul Jalil told AFP on Monday they had recovered the bodies of 10 children, an elderly woman and a man after an all-night rescue operation.
More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh since late August. Many walk for days through thick jungle before making the perilous boat journey across the Naf river that divides the two countries.
Survivor Sayed Hossain wept as he watched the body of his two and a half-year-old son being taken away to the local cemetery for burial.
“We set off at around 6pm. We did not have any choice but to leave our village,” he said, telling how the overloaded boat overturned when it hit a shoal and sank in rough water.
“They (security forces) have restricted our movements. Many are starving as we could not even go to shop or market to buy food,” said the 30-year-old Rohingya farmhand, who lived in a village east of Myanmar’s Buthidaung township.
Hossain’s mother, his pregnant wife and two children were all still missing.
Border guard boats have rescued 13 Rohingya and the rest are missing, Jalil said, adding many may have swum to the Rakhine coast.
Area coast guard commander Alauddin Nayan said the boat capsized near the coastal village of Galachar with nearly 100 people on board, more than half of them children. Around 150 Rohingya, many of them children, have drowned trying to reach Bangladesh in small and rickety fishing boats that coastguards say are woefully inadequate for the rough seas.