Rohingyan Muslims are an ethnic group who practice Islam and speak a language related Bengali. The origin of this group of people is disputed with some saying they are indigenous to the state of Rakhine in Myanmar while others contend they are migrants who came from Bengal, latterly Bangladesh, to Burma (Myanmar) during the period of British colonial rule. According to the United Nations, Rohingyans are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Many Rohingyans have fled Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh and to areas along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Myanmar Rohingya refugee boat capsizes, with 62 missing
Associated Press in Yangon
A boat carrying 70 ethnic minority Muslim Rohingya capsized on Sunday off the western coast of Myanmar, an aid worker said. Only eight survivors have been found.
The boat was in the Bay of Bengal and headed for Bangladesh when it went down early on Sunday, said Abdul Melik, who works for the humanitarian organisation Action Against Hunger.
The incident comes after the United Nations warned that an annual and often deadly exodus of desperate people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state appears to have begun. The exodus usually kicks off in November, when seas begin to calm.
As many as 1,500 people have fled in the last week, Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UN High commission for Refugees, said at a press briefing on Saturday in Geneva.
He said the agency had received several reports of drownings and was seeking details from authorities.
In Sunday’s incident, Melik said the wooden boat carrying at least 70 Rohingya from Ohn Taw Gyi village left at around 3am and broke apart about four hours later. Women, children and babies were among those on board.
Family members and friends were scouring the Bay of Bengal and coastlines for survivors, but so far only eight survivors have been found, he said.
It was not immediately clear whether any bodies had been recovered.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, has been gripped by sectarian violence in the last 18 months, leaving more than 240 people dead and causing 250,000 to flee from their homes. Most of the victims have been Rohingya, a long persecuted Muslim minority in the country, with Buddhist mobs chasing them down with machetes, iron chains and bamboo clubs.
The UN says it expects this year’s exodus to be on one of the biggest on record because of the violence.