Bangkok, Aug 11 (EFE).- At least 17 members of the Rohingya minority have died and 33 are missing after the boat they were traveling on sank in the Bay of Bengal as it left western Myanmar for Malaysia, rescue teams told EFE on Friday.
The vessel sank Monday off the coast of Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, due to heavy rains, and the bodies were recovered near the town of Basa, in Sittwe, according to Ko Byar Hla, from the Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation, who participated in the rescue efforts.
Of the deceased, seven are men and 10 are women, all aged 20 to 30 and all Rohingya, the minority ethnic group of the Muslim religion that Myanmar, a country with a Buddhist majority, does not recognize and persecutes.
An estimated 33 people are still missing, while eight were found alive. In total, 58 people were traveling on the boat.
“We know that there are still people missing, so we have not stopped looking. The search continues, in cooperation with some government teams,” Ko Byar Hla told EFE.
He said the vessel’s passengers had each paid MMK 10 million (about $4,700) to intermediary agents who had promised to take them from Rakhine to Malaysia and that they likely abandoned the boat, usually barges in poor condition, after it sank.
Living conditions in impoverished Rakhine, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live, further worsened after Cyclone Mocha struck in May, wiping out entire villages and killing tens to hundreds, according to sources.
The uncertain situation was exacerbated by the blocking of access to international aid agencies by the military junta that came to power in Myanmar after a coup in February 2021.
In addition to Rakhine, about 1 million Rohingyas live in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where they fled after being victims of campaigns of military persecution in Myanmar, the last in 2017, which the United Nations is investigating for possible genocide.
Rohingya fleeing by boat to neighboring countries from both the Bangladesh and Myanmar camps is a frequent occurrence.
In 2022, nearly 3,500 Rohingya risked their lives on the dangerous routes in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, and at least 348 of them died or went missing on those voyages, according to UNHCR data. EFE