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Boats capsize leaves 26 fleeing Rohingyas dead

There has been a collective failure to respond to the needs of people in distress, says Bishop Gervas Rozario

Boats capsize leaves 26 fleeing Rohingyas dead

This Aug. 30 photo shows Rohingya refugees reaching for food aid at a refugee camp in Ukhiya near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Rohingya continue to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh for safety. (Photo by AFP)


Stephan Uttom, Dhaka

September 1, 2017

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A Bangladeshi Catholic bishop has criticized the government for not being compassionate to refugees, following the death of at least 26 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar who died as boats capsized on the border with Bangladesh.

The Rohingyas were fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State as three boats carrying them sank off the Naf River due to strong winds and currents, said Moinuddin Khan, in-charge of Teknaf police station, in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh.

"We have recovered the bodies of 15 children and 11 women so far, and there might be more missing as we don't know how many were on board," Khan said.

Bishop Gervas Rozario, chairman of the Bangladesh Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, described the deaths as shocking and heartbreaking.

There has been a "collective" failure to respond to the needs of people in distress.

"The world should pressure Myanmar to give citizenship rights to Rohingya," he said.

"I would hope Bangladesh will be more sympathetic toward the Rohingya at this moment of crisis, considering that during the 1971 independence war 10 million Bengalis became refugees in India."

Hamidur Rahman, a local Bangladeshi politician on the island of Shahporir Dwip, near the border with Rakhine, said he had seen about 13 floating bodies in recent days.

"We hear gunshots from time to time, see fire and smoke in border villages," Rahman said. 

"Rohingya are facing unspeakable violence, so their only option is fleeing."

 He believed Bangladesh should be sympathetic towards them.

"On the other hand, the government needs to mobilize international support to pressure Myanmar to bring an end to the Rohingya crisis," Rahman added.    

Following attacks on Myanmar security posts by Rohingya militants on Aug. 25, violence erupted in northern Rakhine State leaving more than 100 people dead.

International media reports suggest the toll might be much higher as Myanmar's military continues to shoot civilians and burn villages in what they call "clearance operations." The military is also denying media and aid groups entry to strife-torn areas.

The latest bout of violence forced at least 18,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration. Foreign media and aid groups put the number at more than 30,000.

Bangladesh border guards initially blocked entry of refugees and sealed off the border.

However, that stance has partly softened due to a call from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week for people to show "maximum sympathy" for Rohingya.

Bangladeshi border guards and local government bodies have been providing food and medical services to thousands of Rohingyas stranded in 'no man's land' between the two countries.

Ariful Islam, commander of a battalion stationed at Teknaf, said patrols were continuing as usual.

"But we are more humane and sympathetic toward Rohingyas," he said.

"We don't allow them in, but offer humanitarian support and only send them back when there is no apparent fighting in Rakhine."

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