At least 17 Rohingya refugees have been killed, and 30 remain missing after a boat capsized in bad weather in the Bay of Bengal earlier this week, aid workers in Myanmar said.
Volunteers said on Thursday that eight people were rescued from the boat, which was headed for Malaysia, a coveted destination for thousands of Muslim-majority Rohingya people fleeing persecution and poverty in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
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It was unclear from where the boat had set off.
“We found dead bodies starting from August 7,” said Min Htal Wah, chairperson of Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation, a rescue organisation based in the coastal Rakhine state of Myanmar.
“Within three days, we found 17 dead bodies … We found some people alive,” he said, adding that 10 women were among the dead.
A Rohingya aid worker in Maungdaw township on the border with Bangladesh said the boat had departed in bad weather, and about 500 others were still hoping to cross to Malaysia.
Nearly one million Rohingya people live in crowded conditions in Bangladesh, among them those who fled a deadly crackdown in 2017 by Myanmar’s military, which has denied committing crimes against humanity.
An untold number of them have died at sea from disease, hunger and fatigue as they attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia in rickety boats.
More than 3,500 Rohingya people in 39 vessels attempted crossings of the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal in 2022, up from 700 the previous year, according to the United Nations refugee agency’s January data.
At least 348 Rohingya died or went missing at sea last year, the agency said, calling for a regional response to stop further drownings.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says calls for maritime authorities in the region “to rescue and disembark people in distress have gone unheeded with many boats adrift for weeks”.
Amnesty International has likened the living conditions of Rohingya people in Rakhine state to “apartheid”.
Myanmar faces genocide accusations at the United Nations’ top court following the mass exodus.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have discussed efforts to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees to their homeland.
A top United States rights envoy in Bangladesh said in July that conditions remained unsafe for the return of ethnic Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
Funding cuts forced the UN food agency to cut rations to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh twice this year.
A cyclone ravaged Rakhine in May and the military government has blocked international efforts to deliver aid.
Myanmar has been in chaos since Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government was toppled in a military coup in February 2021, ending its brief period of democracy.