A boat packed with approximately 100 Rohingya desperately escaping violence in Myanmar capsized in the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal this evening (28/09), while en route to Bangladesh.
The remains of 15 Rohingya – nine children, five adult women and one adult man – were recovered off the shores of Ukhiya, Bangladesh, near the village of Shamlapur.
Local community members saw the boat capsize and were able to immediately launch rescue operations. Fire and civil defence services, as well as, Shamlapur community members, rescued some 17 people – ten of whom have been hospitalized. IOM, the UN Migration Agency’s local team travelled to the scene to see what immediate support was required by survivors and to assess how IOM could respond.
IOM staff found Khadija Begum*, a 22-year-old female survivor, in a local grocery shop. They approached her and sensitively asked her in the Ukhiya dialect, which is similar to her own, if she needed help. Still in shock, she was waiting as the rescue operations continued. Gradually, she recounted what happened.
Khadija Begum said that among the rescued children, who have not been hospitalized, one is hers and five are her neighbours’ children. Khadija Begum also said that one of her own children, a baby of eight months, was drowned when the boat capsized and that her 35-year-old husband, Abdul, is one of the ten people, who had been hospitalized. Khadija Begum’s mother-in-law, 55 years old, was also drowned, as was her 30-year-old sister-in-law along with her 4-year-old child.
She said that they had boarded the boat yesterday evening and had been on it for about a day.
Leaving their village in Rakhine State, Myanmar, they walked for two days and two nights to reach the place, where the boat embarked from. There was about 100 people on board – although it could have been more – of whom, she said the majority were children.
They had been floating in the sea all night (27/09) with no food. Afraid of being detected by authorities, the captain did not try to anchor the boat near the shore until late this afternoon (28/09). He had been searching for an unguarded point. At 5:00pm today (Bangladesh), while trying to anchor the boat, and given how rough the seas currently are from torrential wind and rain, the captain lost control of the boat and it capsized.
The incident happened very close to the shore but where the water was still dangerously deep. Local community members saw the boat capsize and were able to immediately launch rescue operations. The boat was destroyed and washed away.
“These people thought they had finally arrived to safety but died before even touching land,” said Abdullah Al Mamoun, one of the IOM staff members who travelled to the scene, where he saw the remains.
Khadija Begum said that the captain was a Bangladeshi man, who was missing since the incident. She also said that the amount they were meant to pay for the journey was not fixed. They were to pay the captain once he got them to safety and before getting off the boat, which never happened.
The IOM team liaised with local authorities and other UN agencies to ensure the survivors, who did not need to be hospitalized, had somewhere to go. They are now being taken care by a member of the local civil council. This is a temporary arrangement and longer term assistance and shelter is currently being discussed.
The fate of the other approximately 68 Rohingya on the boat remains unknown as torrential wind and rain continues. Community members, police, border control and fire service are all still on the scene as they are expecting the remains of more victims to wash up on the shore. They are also hoping to rescue more survivors.
The Shamlapur fishing village, some 35 kilometres south of Cox’s Bazar, is where many Rohingya have settled in makeshift homes during past influxes – now living amongst the Bengal community. Since violence flared on August 25, at least 518,000 Rohingya have fled from Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Rohingya enter the country through a variety of crossing points, including land and marine routes in coastal areas on the Bay of Bengal, as well as over the Naf River in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.
Now in the midst of the monsoon rainy season, this journey is especially hazardous and deadly as this tragedy underscores.
Most of the half a million newly arrived Rohingya live in Kutupalong and the surrounding hillocks in tent cities and overcrowded make-shift settlement. IOM is leading the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar. Emergency response in the settlements is being scaled up to meet the enormous health, safety and security needs, but the needs far outstrip the current capacity in country. IOM is also conducting site planning for the new temporary displacement site on land allocated by the Governm