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Traffickers' boat sinks in Bay of Bengal

Fleeing Rohingyas involved in second boat tragedy

Boat tragedy survivors with border guards (Photo Zabed Iqbal Chowdhury) Boat tragedy survivors with border guards (Photo Zabed Iqbal Chowdhury)
  • ucanews.com reporters, Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • November 8, 2012
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About 85 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, remain missing after a boat en route illegally to Malaysia sank in the Bay of Bengal in the early hours of yesterday morning – the second such tragedy in less than two weeks.

A local commander said 110 passengers boarded the vessel in Teknaf – near the border with Myanmar – and that authorities were conducting search and rescue operations.

“Twenty-five people including two Rohingyas were rescued by fishermen and they are now in our custody. Navy and Coast Guard personnel are still looking for survivors but have yet to find any others,” Lt. Col. Zahid Hasan, area commander of the Border Guard Bangladesh, told ucanews.com by phone.

Hasan added that border guards were questioning survivors to get information about the human traffickers operating the boat.

Muhammad Azam, 26, from Bangladesh, one of the survivors picked up by fishermen, said he and other passengers were brought aboard early Wednesday morning because the operators hoped to avoid detection by border guards.

“It was working well until the boat entered deep water, started wobbling and one passenger fell off,” he told ucanews.com.

“The boat stopped and as we started searching for the passenger, we sank.”

Azam said he had paid 30,000 taka (US$366) to a local agent in the hope of finding a job and a better life in Malaysia.

“My money is gone, but still I’m happy that I’m alive. A fishing boat rescued us after we swam several hours in the strong sea, but I don’t know what happened to the others.”

Abdul Mazid, 35, a Rohingya who was also rescued, said he had been separated from family during recent violence in Rakhine state in Myanmar and had recently fled to Bangladesh with a group of other Rohingyas.

“I managed to pay 20,000 taka to a Bangladeshi agent to go to Malaysia with the promise of a job. I thought my life would change forever. But that didn’t happen,” said Mazid, who added that he could not recall how many other Rohingyas were on board the boat.

For decades Rohingyas from western Myanmar have fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape what they and rights groups say is systemic human rights abuses and racially motivated violence.

Few of the estimated hundreds of thousands have been granted official refugee status, with the majority living in cramped makeshift border camps.

In June a new wave of racially motivated violence triggered a new exodus of Rohingya refugees. In response, Bangladesh authorities have moved to tighten border security and have turned away boatloads of Rohingyas – a decision condemned by the UN High Commission for Refugees and the US State Department.

According to current estimates, there are about 30,000 documented and 300,000 undocumented Rohingya refugees living along the border in Bangladesh.

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