Bangladeshi authorities said Wednesday they had recovered the bodies of 11 Rohingya who drowned in the Bay of Bengal after their boat capsized in bad weather as they tried to escape from an island housing refugees over the weekend.
A search was going on for 15 other Rohingya still missing from the boat after it sank off Bhashan Char Island on Saturday, said Lt. M. Abdur Rauf, a Coast Guard public relations officer. Twelve others were rescued by local fishermen, who brought the survivors back to the island later that day.
“Seven bodies including six minors were recovered from the Chittagong part of the sea on Tuesday while four other bodies were recovered two days earlier,” Abdur Rauf told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, adding he did not know when joint rescue efforts by the Coast Guard, Navy, and police would end or if they would be changed to a recovery mission.
The bodies of the 11 Rohingya were turned over to their families and buried on Bhashan Char, said Muhammad Rafiqul Islam, chief of the police station on the island.
One of the rescued people, Bashir Ahmmad, said that of his 11-member family, he and five others were rescued while five others were still missing.
“Bodies of 11 people were recovered in the last few days. None of them are my family members …. My wife and four children have drowned,” he told BenarNews by phone from the island.
Ahmmad said his family boarded the boat after trekking for six hours through a jungle on the island. Middlemen had charged each adult passenger 7,000 taka (U.S. $83) for passage to the port-city of Chittagong, he said.
The motorized boat carrying 38 Rohingya and crew members left Bhashan Char from a jungle canal that does not have a strong police presence, Rear Adm. M. Ashraful Haq, the Bangladesh Coast Guard chief, told BenarNews. He did not release information about the number of crew members but said they were Rohingya.
“Survivors are unable to identify the middlemen who arranged the deadly trip. We are conducting an investigation into it,” Rafiqul Islam told BenarNews.
Since December 2020, the Bangladesh government has moved nearly 19,000 from camps in and around Cox’s Bazar that are home to about 1 million Rohingya to the low-lying and remote island. A housing complex to accommodate as many as 100,000 refugees was constructed on the island.
Rohingya are trying to leave Bhashan Char because Bangladeshi leaders were not honest about conditions on island, one of the island’s inhabitants said.
“The commitment by the government is not matching with reality. We feel like prisoners here. As a result, people are always trying to flee from here,” Rashida Begum told BenarNews.
The government has denied that it has forced Rohingya to move to the island, saying they moved there on a voluntary basis as part of Bangladesh’s efforts to ease congestion at the mainland camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Begum said her sister, Sona Maher, along with five other family members, had boarded the boat.
“They all are still missing. I don’t know whether they are alive or not,” she told BenarNews.
“Rohingya people are regularly trying to flee from the island and are losing their lives. I do not want such deaths of Rohingya people,” she said in a telephone interview.
Another resident, Md. Hamid, said some of his neighbors had drowned.
“A boy was rescued beside my cluster. He is the lone survivor of his six-member family. Now he is crying and searching for his parents,” he told BenarNews.
Bhashan Char residents are prohibited from leaving the island’s confines. Still, nearly 300 have fled in the last few months, local Rohingya leaders claimed, while local police have said the actual number is lower.
“We have no specific number of the refugees who fled from the island but the number is increasing,” said Rafiqul Islam, the Bhashan Char police chief, without elaborating.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.