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Boat Carrying Rohingya Refugees Capsizes Off Bangladesh

Rohingya children wait for food handouts at Thangkhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Thursday.
Zakir Hossain Chowdhury
Rohingya children wait for food handouts at Thangkhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Thursday.

At least a dozen people are dead after an overcrowded boat carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized off the coast of Bangladesh.

Michael Sullivan, reporting on NPR's Morning Edition, says that the majority of the dead are children and at least 30 other people are still missing.

The accident occurred late Sunday near Shah Porir Dwip in Bangladesh's southern coastal district.

More than a half-million Rohingya have fled Myanmar's western Rakhine State since Aug. 25, when a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army — which is associated with the minority group — attacked a series of military outposts, prompting a brutal crackdown from soldiers. The United Nations has called the retaliatory attacks by Myanmar's military "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing." The Rohingya have long suffered persecution in predominately Buddhist Myanmar.

Hala Jaber is spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. She tells NPR that the weather in the area has been bad.

"I can tell you, it's been raining non-stop, pelting down, not just rain, on and off for the last three four or five days. With strong winds," Jaber says. "These are small fishing boats. They've got like 60 to 70 persons on board and it takes one wave to turn it over."

Jaber says several thousand refugees keep crossing into Bangladesh pretty much every day either by boat or by land. And there are reports of many thousands more massing on the Myanmar side waiting to cross when they can.

Sullivan reports:

"It's an often perilous journey—one that frequently ends in tragedy. In early September, 46 bodies were recovered after a boat crammed with refugees capsized; 11 days ago, another boat sank with 80 people on board. Fewer than twenty survived. Yet still the refugees keep coming—the risk on the water preferable to that of staying and facing Myanmar's military."

Sayed Azin, 46, who crossed into Bangladesh overland is quoted by Reuters as saying soldiers and Buddhist mobs torched his village.

"Half of my village was burned down. I saw them do it," he said after walking for eight days with his 80-year-old mother to reach Bangladesh.

"I left everything," he told Reuters, sobbing. "I can't find my relatives ... I can't take this anymore."

Some people streaming into Bangladesh reported bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs on people trying to reach the border, according to Reuters.

Conditions in the makeshift camps housing the refugees are still wretched and adequate food, shelter and sanitation is still a challenge, Michael reports.

"The floods, ...basically the misery. It's relentless. It's not easing up at all. It's not getting better," Jaber says.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.