At least 15 people died and more than 50 are missing after a boat carrying 130 Rohingya refugees capsized on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The Bangladesh coast guard managed to rescue 73 people and is searching for the rest of the passengers, but they doubt that anyone else survived. In the days ahead, the death toll could exceed 60 as the rescue efforts continue.
“It was inhumane,” Hamidul Islam, a coast guard official, told Reuters. “The boat was carrying roughly 130 people, while it had a capacity of 50.”
“The chance of finding anyone else alive is pretty slim, but we cannot give up,” he added. “We are continuing search operations.”
The tragedy is just the latest incident in which a fragile boat capsized after carrying far more Rohingya refugees than its capacity allowed. Tiny boats packed with bodies have become a harrowing symbol of the flow of migrants and refugees around the world, and serve as a rebuke to the prevailing international response of deterrence and containment that leads people to go to desperate lengths for safety.
The United Nations' Global Goal 16 urges countries to adopt humane policies for managing migrants and refugees.
This particular disaster reflects the risks Rohingya refugees are willing to take in pursuit of a better life. Oftentimes, men, women, and children are lured by human traffickers who promise opportunities elsewhere.
Some of the refugees interviewed by Reuters said that they were trying to reconnect with separated family members in Malaysia. Others were trying to flee the often miserable conditions in Cox’s Bazar, a massive refugee camp in Bangladesh.
In 2017, the Myanmar army began a genocidal campaign to get rid of Rohingya, a minority Muslim ethnic group in the country that has long been oppressed by the government.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled the country and found refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. Most of the people who fled ended up in Cox’s Bazar, which has been plagued by overcrowding, natural disasters, contagious diseases, human trafficking, and more.
Adults are often unable to find legal work due to their temporary status in Bangladesh, and are forced to earn income by any means possible. Children in the camp have had their education disrupted, and some have been sold into marriage or forced labor.
Although Myanmar has vowed to repatriate Rohingya and provide protection for them, very few refugees have returned to their homes, largely because of insufficient efforts made to date and the overwhelming distrust Rohingya feel for the Myanmar government.
As a result, many refugees are taking what they perceive to be the best of bad options by climbing onto flimsy boats and attempting a perilous trip to Malaysia.