Rescuers have found the bodies of 11 people after dozens of Rohingya Muslims went missing following the sinking of a boat in the Bay of Bengal at the weekend, police said on Wednesday.
The boat carrying at least 41 Rohingya men, women and children capsized near the coast of the south-eastern district of Chattogram early on Saturday as they tried to flee a controversial refugee settlement located on an island off the mainland.
Rescuers from Bangladesh Navy and Coastguard had found the bodies of a man, three women and seven children drifting at different points in the bay by Tuesday night, police officer Rafiqul Islam told dpa by phone.
The bodies were transported back to the refugee settlement on Bhasan Char Island, said Islam, who is also the chief of the local police outpost supervising order at the settlement.
“All the deceased belong to the Rohingya community, and they met with the accident during an attempt to flee the island,” he said.
The rescue operation is still ongoing, the officer added.
Sujit Kumar Chanda of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission said earlier local fishermen rescued 14 refugees soon after their boat capsized due to inclement weather.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) said the agency was alerted that a boat carrying dozens of Rohingya refugees had capsized.
“We are devastated that reportedly many passengers, including women and children, have tragically drowned,” the statement said on Sunday, adding the confirmed number is not yet known.
Bangladesh has moved nearly 20,000 refugees to the island, located more than 35 kilometres from the mainland in the Bay of Bengal, since December, despite aid agencies’ criticism.
The government has planned the relocation of 100,000 of the more than 1 million Rohingya, who fled persecution in Myanmar, to the island from the crowded mainland camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Nearly 750,000 refugees crossed the border fleeing persecution in neighbouring Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017.
Bangladesh has invested almost 350 million dollars in infrastructure on the island, describing it as the best option available and saying the refugees were willing to be relocated.
But rights organizations say many of the refugees were forcibly taken to the island, which is regularly submerged by monsoon rains and is vulnerable to annual cyclones.
Several hundred refugees protested against their living conditions in May when two senior officials from the UNHCR visited the island for the first time.