After a boat bringing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Malaysia capsized on Monday, at least 17 persons are dead and 33 are missing.
The bodies of 10 women and seven men have been recovered after being washed up on the coast of Myanmar, said Bya Latt, a spokesperson for the rescue group Shwe Yaung Matta Foundation. Eight people who were rescued are being held at a local police station, Latt said.
When a storm developed on Sunday night not far from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, off the west coast of Myanmar, the wooden boat was carrying 58 passengers and crew. The police and rescue foundation are working together to search for the missing.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and, according to rights groups and the UN, are among the most persecuted people in the world. In 2017 a military crackdown in Rakhine forced 750,000 Rohingya out of the state into refugee camps in Bangladesh. About 600,000 remain, and have been denied citizenship and freedom of movement.
Thousands of people a year make dangerous journeys from the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar to seek better lives in the Muslim majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia. According to UNHCR’s January data, last year more than 3,500 Rohingya made the crossing over the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, 700 more than in 2021.
Human Rights Watch figures show that nearly 350 of those making the crossing died or went missing at sea last year, and the NGO is calling for a regional response to stop the drownings. In one incident in December, 180 Rohingya refugees died after their boat went down in the Andaman Sea.
Amnesty International has compared the living conditions for Rohingya still in Rakhine to apartheid, or institutionalised racial segregation. When the state was hit by a cyclone in May, the military junta in Myanmar blocked international efforts to deliver aid to Rohingya victims.