Coastguards in Bangladesh found on Thursday the bodies of 16 Rohingya, many of them children, who drowned when their boat capsized as they fled an upsurge in violence in Myanmar that has forced at least 18,500 to seek refuge across the border.
Officials in Bangladesh say growing numbers of Rohingya are trying to cross the Naf river that divides the two countries in rickety boats, which often do not survive the rough waters as they become increasingly desperate to escape.
The International Organization for Migration said Wednesday that at least 18,500 Rohingya had crossed into Bangladesh since fighting erupted in Myanmar’s neighbouring Rakhine state six days earlier.
But some do not make it. On Wednesday, the bodies of two Rohingya women and two children washed up in Bangladesh after their rickety boat capsized.
And on Thursday Nurul Amin Rohingya, a local official, said another boat had capsized killing 16 Rohingya.
“We have found 16 bodies washed ashore this morning,” he told AFP.
A coast guard official, who asked not to be named, said the migrants were travelling on “rickety inland fishing boats” ill-equipped for the rough seas around Bangladesh.
The Naf river that divides the two countries is narrow in places, but the Rohingya are increasingly crossing where the river is wider, or even venturing out to sea, after Bangladeshi authorities toughened their border patrols.
Bangladesh is already home to an estimated 400,000 Rohingya, a mainly Muslim stateless minority.
Most live in squalid and increasingly overcrowded camps in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazar, and Dhaka has made clear it does not want more to come in.
The latest clashes in Myanmar began on Friday when Rohingya militants staged deadly attacks on police posts, prompting raids on the community and searches by troops and police.
An estimated 6,000 more Rohingya are massed on the border, having fled their villages in Myanmar saying they were set on fire by police, troops and Buddhist mobs.
Media access to Rakhine is restricted, but on Wednesday an AFP reporter on a government-led trip in the worst-hit section of the state saw plumes of smoke billowing from several burning villages.
Persecution of the Rohingya, reviled as illegal immigrants by the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar, has caused much anger across the Muslim world.