At least three women die after Rohingya boat sinks off Bangladesh

More than a dozen missing after a fishing trawler bound for Malaysia runs into bad weather in the Bay of Bengal.

A wooden boat transporting Rohingya refugees after it was intercepted in the waters off Bireuen, Aceh province and were denied refuge in Indonesia
Dire conditions in Bangladesh's refugee camps prompt hundreds of Rohingya each year to pay smugglers for passage out of the country [File: AFP]

At least three people have drowned and nearly 20 others are missing off the Bangladesh coast after a boat carrying Rohingya refugees sank in rough weather, authorities said.

The fishing trawler left at dawn on Tuesday, bound for Malaysia, before it ran into trouble in the Bay of Bengal, with two coast guard search boats scrambling to rescue survivors.

Local police inspector Nur Mohammad told Al Jazeera that at least three bodies of young Rohingya women had washed ashore at Shilkhali beach in the coastal town of Halbunia.

“We went there after local fishermen informed us about the dead bodies. The women are aged between 18 and 20,” he said, adding that the bodies have been sent to a hospital in Cox’s Bazar town for post-mortem examinations.

“We are suspecting some human traffickers in the area. A case will be filed against them,” he said.

The boat sank off the coast of Cox’s Bazar district, near the site of sprawling camps that are home to approximately a million Rohingya refugees.

Dire conditions in Bangladesh’s refugee camps prompt hundreds of Rohingya each year to pay smugglers for passage out of the country.

Mohammad Jalil, a resident of Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, said he paid a large sum to some traffickers to take him to Malaysia. “Our money is gone now. We risked our lives for nothing,” he said.

Peyara Khatun, a Rohingya woman who was rescued, recounted the incident.

“The sea was very fierce and there were large waves. At one point, the trawler sank. We swam for an hour to reach to the beach,” she said.

Coast guard station commander Ashiq Ahmed said the vessel was believed to be carrying about 65 people after stopping at several coastal towns before heading out to sea.

“We have rescued 45 people including 41 Rohingya refugees and four Bangladeshis,” he told AFP news agency.

“Nearly 20 people are still missing. The rescue operation is going on,” he added.

Most of the Rohingya in Bangladesh arrived five years ago after a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar that is now the subject of a genocide investigation at the United Nation’s top court.

Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies