A trawler carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar capsized, drowning at least five people, amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis that the U.N. says has now pushed nearly 150,000 refugees into Bangladesh. Increasingly desperate to escape from violence in Myanmar, Rohingyas risk their lives on journey in rickety boats with many drowning.
Residents of Shah Porir Dwip fishing village recovered five bodies from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday, hours after the boat capsized around midnight, said police official Yakub Ali. It was not immediately clear where the boat began its journey, or if the passengers had been among some 450 detained by Bangladeshi border guards and ordered Tuesday to return to Myanmar. While some border guards were letting refugees across the borders, others were sending them back.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was crucial that Myanmar's government immediately give Rohingya either nationality or legal status so they can lead normal lives and freely move, find jobs, and get an education. Guterres cited the longstanding history of "discrimination, hopelessness and extreme poverty" against Rohingya and warned about possible ethnic cleansing.
The number of Rohingya fleeing western Rakhine state has reached 150,000, 80 percent of whom are women and children, according to the U.N.
"Many more children in need of support and protection remain in the areas of northern Rakhine state that have been wracked by violence," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement, adding that the U.N. refugee agency had no access to Rakhine trouble spots.
"We are unable to reach the 28,000 children to whom we were previously providing psychosocial care or the more than 4,000 children who were treated for malnutrition in Buthidaung and Maungdaw" in Rakhine, he said. "Our clean water and sanitation work has been suspended, as have school repairs that were under way."
Violence broke out in the Rakhine after security forces launched an operation against Rohingya Muslims, forcing nearly 125,000 people, including women and children to flee and seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when clashes began. Myanmar security forces are accused of using disproportionate force and destroying the homes of the Rohingya people.
Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have sheltered in refugee camps in Rakhine since communal violence flared in mid-2012. The state is home to around 1.2 million Rohingyas, who have long been officially labelled Bengali, suggesting they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Despite having lived in the area for generations, Rohingyas were effectively denied citizenship with a 1982 nationality law and have restricted basic rights such as freedom of movement. According to the law, foreigners cannot become naturalized citizens of Myanmar unless they can prove a close familial connection to the country.