Dozens of Rohingya migrants perished or went missing over the weekend when a boat carrying approximately 90 people, including children, crashed and sunk in strong weather off the coast of Myanmar.
More than twenty survivors were held by officials in the Ayeyarwady region of Myanmar, inhabitants of the coastal district of Shwe Taung Yan said Radio Free Asia, which is supported by the United States.
The Ayeyarwady Times stated that the boat ran into problems a few days after departing Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, on May 19 for Malaysia. According to survivors, the vessel ran into trouble a few days after leaving Sittwe. At least 14 dead have been recovered to date, while Radio Free Asia reports that more than 50 individuals remain missing.
Myanmar, a primarily Buddhist country with a long history of military control, is home to just about 600,000 Rohingya Muslims. Myanmar has rendered the Rohingya stateless, and as a result of ethnic violence and persecution in the past, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 148,000 Rohingya have been displaced, with many residing in camps.
A spokeswoman for the military government did not respond to a request for comment on the latest reported tragedy involving Rohingya refugees who perished at sea while attempting to flee persecution in Myanmar.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military-led operation that, according to U.N. investigators, was conducted with “genocidal intent” and involved mass executions and rapes.
Myanmar has denied widespread atrocities, describing the bloodshed as a response to attacks by Rohingya extremists.
The other primary destination for Rohingya migrants has been Malaysia, a country with a largely Muslim population that is viewed as sympathetic, but not formally recognising them as refugees.
Approximately 630 Rohingya attempted to cross the Bay of Bengal by water between January and May of this year, according to the UNHCR, with women and children comprising 60% of those who attempted the trek.
Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s Director for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement that the new tragedy demonstrates the Rohingya’s desperation in Myanmar and the surrounding region.