At least 17 people drowned when a boat carrying Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state broke up at sea this week, rescuers said Thursday.
Thousands of Rohingya risk their lives each year making perilous sea journeys from camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar to try to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.
Byar La, a rescuer from the Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation in the town of Sittwe, said more than 50 people were thought to be on the boat heading for Malaysia when it got into trouble in heavy seas on Sunday night.
“We found 17 dead bodies… as of yesterday,” he told AFP.
“We found eight men alive. Police have taken them for questioning.”
Rescuers are still trying to find those unaccounted for, he said, though the exact number on board is not known.
Rakhine in Buddhist-majority Myanmar is home to around 600,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are considered migrants from Bangladesh and are denied citizenship and freedom of movement.
A Myanmar military crackdown in 2017 forced some 750,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine for Bangladesh following widespread accounts of murder, arson and rape.