At least 13 Rohingya refugees, 11 of them young children, fleeing violence in Myanmar have drowned when the fishing boat they were on capsized in stormy weather, the United Nations migration agency said.
Among those who perished were seven boys aged between three and 10, and four girls between two-three years old.
Based on accounts from survivors, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that there were approximately 60 refugees from the minority Muslim Rohingya community aboard the 20-metre wooden vessel with a normal capacity of 20 when it left Myanmar under cover of darkness – hoping avoid patrols there as well as in Bangladesh.
The vessel was headed for Shahporir Dwip, an island at the southern tip of Bangladesh, about 78 kilometres south of Cox's Bazar, when it foundered at Golar Para Char when the fisherman at the helm lost control and ran aground.
According to survivors, the fleeing Rohingya had paid the fisherman the equivalent of $30 a head for what should have been a short sea journey, IOM said.
About three hours after the boat initiated its journey from Dongkhalir Char in Buthidaung Township (north Rakhine province, Myanmar) Bangladesh Coast Guard were alerted of the disaster and launched a rescue mission.
Like many of the most recent arrivals in Bangladesh, the refugees caught up in last night's tragedy came from villages well inside Myanmar, they told IOM staff that they walked for eleven days before reaching the coast.
However, even after crossing in Bangladesh, the conditions remain extremely challenging for the refuges – having to in the open or under makeshift tents and shelters using polythene, tarpaulin or pieces of cloth, with limited food, water and sanitation facilities.
This latest tragedy follows on another mass drowning on September 28, when a fishing boat carrying refugees capsized near the same area, killing 23 people.
As of 7 October, 519,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh, including 467,800 identified by IOM assessments in the Cox's Bazar area.
In other news, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners announced the rollout of a
vaccination campaign – the second largest of its kind ever – in Cox's Bazar beginning tomorrow. They aim to deliver cholera vaccinations to 650,000 people initially, followed by a second round to 250,000 children between the ages of one and five.