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Boat Carrying Rohingya Refugees Overturns; At Least 15 Dead

2020-2-11

At least 15 Rohingya refugees are confirmed dead and many more are missing after a boat overturned early Tuesday in the Bay of Bengal.

The boat was said to be overloaded with about 130 refugees.

Commander Sohel Rana of the coast guard station on St. Martin’s Island, Bangladesh, spoke about the incident. He said the wooden boat was traveling to Malaysia when it struck coral. The boat was full of refugees from camps around Cox’s Bazar.

Fishermen told the coast guard about the accident. The coast guard found the boat sinking, with survivors swimming and crying for help. Navy divers joined the coast guard for the rescue operation. Rescuers saved 73 people and recovered 15 bodies. Among the dead were women and children.

Rescuers return one of 15 bodies recovered from the Bay of Bengal after a boat filled with Rohingya refugees sank of the coast of Bangladesh Feb. 11, 2020. (Hai Do/VOA)
Rescuers return one of 15 bodies recovered from the Bay of Bengal after a boat filled with Rohingya refugees sank of the coast of Bangladesh Feb. 11, 2020. (Hai Do/VOA)

A coast guard spokesman, Hamidul Islam, said “the chance of finding any survivors is slim.” But he added, “We are continuing the search and rescue operations.”

Jamila Bibi from the Kutupalong Refugee Camp is one of the survivors. She said she was going to see her husband in Malaysia. “I was going to him. But I cannot go to my destination now,” she said.

A Rohingya teenager who declined to give his name said, "I can't eat properly at camp. Can't move freely. I thought, if I go to Malaysia, maybe I can live a better life. So I wanted to go to Malaysia by boat."

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led campaign against them in 2017. They were forced into crowded camps across the border in Bangladesh.

Several attempts to send Rohingya Muslims back to the Buddhist-majority Myanmar have not been successful.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says Malaysia had nearly 100,000 Rohingya refugees at the end of 2019. That is the second largest number of any country after Bangladesh.

Many of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar have tried to make the dangerous trip to Malaysia by sea. Last November, Bangladesh’s coast guard rescued 122 Rohingya refugees traveling to Malaysia. Their boat started sinking because of a mechanical problem.

After news reports of the drownings Tuesday, the aid group Save the Children released a statement. It said, “The Rohingya refugee crisis has claimed yet more innocent victims today.” The humanitarian organization called the drownings “a wakeup call” and urged Myanmar to “ensure the Rohingya community can return to their homes in a safe and dignified manner.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Hai Do reported and wrote this story, with additional material from the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

coral –n. a hard material formed on the bottom of the sea by the skeletons of small creatures

slim –adj. small in amount, size, or degree

destination –n. a place to which a person is going or something is being sent

dignified –n. serious and somewhat formal : having or showing dignity