Rohingya: At least 16 refugees drown as boat leaving Bangladesh capsizes in Bay of Bengal

Fourteen women are among at least 16 Rohingya refugees who have drowned trying to leave Bangladesh, after their overcrowded vessel capsized in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladeshi officials say the wooden boat was carrying around 125 people, as well as other cargo, headed for Malaysia. It capsized off the coast of St Martin’s Island.

Some 62 refugees survived the sinking, an island official told the Associated Press. The rest remain unaccounted for.

The bodies of those who drowned, including one child, have been taken ashore to nearby Shah Porir island, said Iqbal Hossain, additional police superintendent for Cox’s Bazar.

That town has been host to a sprawling network of refugee camps, collectively the largest in the world, housing more than 700,000 Rohingya who have mostly fled Myanmar since a military crackdown in 2017.

While international aid keeps the refugees fed and sheltered in Bangladesh, conditions in the camps can be dire and there is little hope of future employment prospects or meaningful education.

Human traffickers lure refugees to pay large sums to board unsafe boats away from Bangladesh, promising them a better life abroad. Muslim-majority Malaysia is a popular end point for the voyages, with the country seen as particularly sympathetic to the Rohingyas’ plight.

Many past attempts to travel illegally by boats were thwarted by coast guards. Bangladesh says it wants to see the Rohingya return to Myanmar, once it is safe for them to do so.

But a return across the border is currently unacceptable to the refugees, who say they cannot trust a Myanmar government that is currently fighting allegations of committing a genocide against them.

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