DHAKA – At least 23 Rohingya refugees died when the boat they were fleeing in capsized in the Bay of Bengal, the UN’s migration agency announced on Friday.
The boat overturned while trying to navigate rough seas en route to Bangladesh, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
The agency said in a statement that the bodies of 15 people were recovered shortly after the incident, which happened on Thursday.
Eight more bodies were retrieved from two locations on Friday morning. Two of the dead were women aged 35 and 49 and six were children, the statement said.
An IOM field team was deployed to provide assistance to the 17 survivors pulled from the water.
Of the ten who required medical treatment at a hospital, four men and two children have now been released. All will be accommodated at Kutupalong, a government-run refugee camp in southern Bangladesh.
One of the men released from hospital told IOM that he thought about 80 people, of which he estimated 50 were children traveling without their parents, were on the boat when it got into trouble.
The survivor said his 22-year-old wife, 8-year-old son and 3-month-old twins had perished in the incident.
This eyewitness account led the migration agency to determine that the whereabouts of about 40 refugees are still unaccounted for.
Some 480,000 Rohingya Muslim’s have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State since violent clashes erupted on August 25, according to the latest report from the Inter Sector Coordination Group in Bangladesh.
UN refugee head Filippo Grandi, who traveled to Bangladesh to meet refugees earlier this week, urged Myanmar authorities to stop the bloodshed. “It is very clear that the cause of this crisis is in Myanmar, but the solution of this crisis also lies in Myanmar,” he said.
“Let me once again, as many other colleagues have done, as the (UN) secretary general has done, let me reiterate the urgent call to the authorities in Myanmar to stop violence, for violence to stop in Rakhine State, in northern Rakhine State, and when that happens, and conditions stabilize, we have to start thinking about solutions.”
Myanmar officials insist the violence has been incited by Rohingya militants and have denied UN accusations of “ethnic cleansing.”
But Rohingya who’ve fled have spoken of their homes being torched, of neighbors turning on neighbors and of relatives taken away never to be seen again.