The bodies of another nine refugees have washed up in Bangladesh after an overloaded boat carrying scores of desperate Rohingya sank in rough seas, police said Tuesday, taking the confirmed death toll to 23.
Eight bodies were found on the banks of the Naf river, which separates Bangladesh from Myanmar, and another was found kilometres away on the island of St Martin.
More than half of the victims in the latest disaster were children, said Mian Uddin, police chief for the border town of Teknaf.
He could not say how many people were missing, but survivors and officials have said the boat was carrying between 60 and 100 people. So far 15 have been rescued by Bangladesh coast guards and border guards, though authorities say some may have swum to Myanmar.
More than half a million refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25, fleeing a military crackdown that followed attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts.
The exodus had slowed, but in recent days government officials say there have been thousands of fresh arrivals, most coming from parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state that are far from the border with Bangladesh.
Many cross the Naf river at its narrowest point, but others are attempting to make the journey by sea, boarding often rickety fishing trawlers that are wholly inadequate for the rough waters in the Bay of Bengal. Nearly 160 have drowned.
Among the latest influx were two young boys aged two and three, who died due to hunger and exhaustion as they entered Bangladesh.
“Their parents told us that they died due to starvation. They walked seven days and did not have anything to eat,” Sultan Ahmed, a local councillor at Anjumanpara border village revealed.
The EU has proposed cutting back contacts with Myanmar’s top generals as a first step to increasing sanctions over atrocities committed by the army against Rohingya Muslims.
According to the draft, the EU “will suspend invitations to the commander in chief of the Myanmar armed forces and other senior military officers.”
Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury, former Bangladeshi special envoy to the UN, welcomed the proposal, calling Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi a “puppet” of the country’s military.
“Currently, Myanmar is getting arms from many Western countries, including Israel. Once the supply line is cut, it will create immense pressure on Myanmar. Only then will Bangladesh be able to repatriate refugees,” Chowdhury told the media, suggesting more comprehensive measures.
“The world should consider economic sanctions on Myanmar. The UN Security Council should pass a unanimous resolution to stop this ethnic cleansing, which is completely unacceptable. If the situation persists, many countries will throw the minority population out of their land.”
Elsewhere, Buddhist villagers in relatively peaceful parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state are enforcing a system of local apartheid that punishes people trading with minority Muslims, fuelling fears that violence in the far northwest could spread to new areas.
Ethnic Rakhines, who form the majority in central parts of the state, have set up committees in several districts that have meted out sanctions ranging from fines to public beatings and expulsions. They say the measures are necessary to protect their communities from Rohingya Muslim militants.