More than two dozen Rohingya refugees are missing and feared drowned after a boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal, the United Nations and Bangladeshi police said on Sunday.
The refugees were apparently trying to flee a remote Bangladeshi island. Several thousand Rohingya have previously relocated to the island after living in overcrowded camps near the border with Myanmar.
The relocation has been criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups, who say the island is not suitable for habitation. The island used to be inundated with regular monsoon rains, but the government now says it is equipped with protective sea walls, hospitals, schools and mosques.
“On the morning of 14 August, UNHCR was alerted that a boat carrying dozens of Rohingya refugees capsized overnight near Bhasan Char Island,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement. Facebook Post.
“We are devastated that reportedly several passengers including women and children have tragically drowned. The confirmed numbers are not yet known,” it said.
A police officer in the Noakhali district, where the island is located, told the Associated Press by phone that about 40 refugees, including women and children, were in the fishing boat, but it sank in bad weather.
On condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, the official said the refugees were “apparently fleeing the island.”
The official said fishermen rescued at least 14 refugees and brought them back to the island.
The United Nations said local Bangladeshi fishermen arrived at the scene first and alerted the authorities.
“The search and rescue operation is being led by the authorities, particularly the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard,” the statement said.
“We are currently seeking more information from the Bangladesh government and are in contact with refugee communities in both Bhasan Char and Cox’s Bazar in an effort to support the authorities in further rescue efforts,” the agency said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, which has sheltered more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar, has relocated some 20,000 refugees to the island from sprawling camps in the Cox’s Bazar district.
The island in Noakhali district was developed by the Bangladesh Navy to accommodate about 100,000 refugees. Officials had earlier said that they would relocate them to the island in a phased manner.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a crackdown on the Muslim ethnic group following an attack by rebels. They join hundreds of thousands of people who have fled to Bangladesh over the decades.
The 2017 crackdown included rape, killings and setting thousands of homes on fire, and was dubbed ethnic cleansing by global rights groups and the United Nations, while Bangladesh and Myanmar have sought to arrange repatriation, preventing the Rohingya from returning home. Very scared.