17 dead after boat carrying Rohingya refugees breaks up off Myanmar

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are considered migrants from Bangladesh

MYANMAR-ROHINGYA/INDONESIA-WITNESS Local fisherman Aditya Setiawan, 20, poses near his wooden boat during an interview as a witness, following a boat carrying Rohingya refugees being stranded at sea off the coast of Bireuen, Aceh province, Indonesia, December 29, 2021 | Reuters

At least 17 people have drowned in an unfortunate maritime tragedy after a boat carrying over 50 Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar's Rakhine state broke up soon after sailing off. Each year, thousands of Rohingyas risk their lives as they try to get into Malaysia and Indonesia from camps in Bangladesh. 

"We found 17 dead bodies ... as of yesterday," Byar La, a rescuer from the Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation in the town of Sittwe told AFP. Eight men were reportedly found alive. 

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are considered migrants from Bangladesh and are denied citizenship and freedom of movement. A 2017 military crackdown displaced about 750,000 Rohingyas, forcing them to flee to Bangladesh. 

Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called for maritime authorities in the region "to rescue and disembark people in distress.” According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 348 Rohingya have died or gone missing at sea in 2022 and at least 39 vessels have attempted crossing the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

A sparsity of funds has caused the World Food Programme to cut food rations at camps in Bangladesh twice this year. Amnesty International has likened the living conditions of Rohingyas in Rakhine to "apartheid". Efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees to their homeland have been discussed by Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The situation in Myanmar has, however, been precarious-- The military toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government in 2021.

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