Coastguards in Bangladesh on Thursday found the bodies of 16 Rohingya Muslims, many of them children, who drowned when their boat capsized as they fled an upsurge in violence in Myanmar that has forced at least 18,500 to seek refuge across the border.
“In recent days, thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Burma have made their way to neighboring Bangladesh, fleeing an aggressive Burmese military campaign that ravaged dozens of villages in the country’s restive state of Rakhine,” Washington Post reported.
An official from the International Organization for Migration told reporters at least 18,500 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border in the past six days, joining the nearly 400,000 Rohingya already housed in squalid camps in Bangladesh.
Officials in Bangladesh say growing numbers of Rohingya are trying to cross the Naf river that divides the two countries in rickety boats, which often do not survive the rough waters as they become increasingly desperate to escape.
On Wednesday, the bodies of two Rohingya women and two children washed up in Bangladesh after their rickety boat capsized.
And on Thursday Nurul Amin Rohingya, a local official, said another boat had capsized killing 16 Rohingya.
“We have found 16 bodies washed ashore this morning,” he told news agency AFP.
A coast guard official, who asked not to be named, said the migrants were travelling on “rickety inland fishing boats” ill-equipped for the rough seas around Bangladesh.
The Naf river that divides the two countries is narrow in places, but the Rohingya are increasingly crossing where the river is wider, or even venturing out to sea, after Bangladeshi authorities toughened their border patrols.
Bangladesh is already home to an estimated 400,000 Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority .
Most live in squalid and increasingly overcrowded camps in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazar, and Dhaka has made clear it does not want more to come in.
The latest clashes in Myanmar began on Friday when Rohingya militants staged deadly attacks on police posts, prompting raids on the community and searches by troops and police.
An estimated 6,000 more Rohingya are massed on the border, having fled their villages in Myanmar saying they were set on fire by police, troops and Buddhist mobs.
Persecution of the Rohingya, reviled as illegal immigrants by the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar, has caused much anger across the Muslim world.
According to the Washington Post, the “Rohingya are quite simply one of the most helpless and forsaken peoples of the world. An ethnic minority disdained by the Burmese public and ignored by the Burmese government, the Rohingya do not have full citizenship rights. About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid like conditions in northern Rakhine.”