At least 15 Rohingya refugees have died and dozens more are unaccounted for after their overcrowded wooden boat heading for Malaysia sank off the coast of southern Bangladesh, officials have said.
Some 130 people – mainly women and children – were packed on the fishing trawler that was trying to get across the Bay of Bengal to Malaysia, coastguard spokesman Hamidul Islam told the AFP news agency on Tuesday. Seventy people had so far been rescued.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency issued a joint statement saying they were ready to support the survivors of the boat.
“UNHCR and IOM are saddened by this tragic loss of life and, together with our other UN and NGO partners, are standing by to offer assistance to the [Bangladeshi] government in responding to the needs of the survivors, be it food, shelter, or medical aid.”
Many of the nearly one million Rohingya, who have taken shelter in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, have tried to go to Malaysia by boat.
Four navy and coastguard boats were searching the seas near St Martin’s island, officials said. “We have found one capsized boat. All of them were mainly from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. We haven’t found any sign of the second boat yet. We will continue our operation,” Islam said.
Those on the boat were hoping to reach Malaysia and were being aided by traffickers, Noor Ahmed, the top elected official on the island, told The Associated Press news agency, quoting accounts by the survivors.