A boat carrying more than 60 displaced Rohingyas capsized just off the coast of the Arakan State capital Sittwe yesterday, leaving dozens dead or missing.
“The toll is now estimated to be 21 dead, including 9 children,” read a statement by the United Nations, adding that this figure was “expected to rise as there are still a number of people unaccounted for.”
Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader based in Sittwe, said that the boat had been traveling from Sin Tet Maw camp in Pauktaw Township when it was flipped by rough sailing conditions.
According to Aung Win, Rohingyas living in the Sin Tet Maw camp make the trip to camps in Sitttwe twice a week to purchase food, fuel, and other amenities.
While Rohingyas in the Sittwe camps face the same restrictions on their movements as those in the camps to the north, they have significantly more access to food and medical supplies, he said.
“The government only allows them to make the trip two times a week and they must bribe the authorities to make it happen,” said Aung Win, referring to those living in camps to the north of the capital, where the government continue to severely limit humanitarian aid and access.
When asked if the incident and increasingly poor sailing conditions would deter other Rohingyas from making the trip, Aung Win could only laugh. “If they don’t go, they will die.”
“This accident serves as a tragic reminder of the vulnerability that many communities and families face in this area of Rakhine [Arakan] where their only option is to use this mode of travel in order to access markets, livelihoods, and other basic services that are essential for a dignified life,” read the UN statement.
Since being displaced from their homes by anti-Muslim rioting in 2012, an estimated 120,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined to internment camps across Arakan State.
The government officially rejects the term “Rohingya” and refers to them as “Bengalis”, implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN statement, released this morning, does not once use the term “Rohingya”.
According to a statement released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 31 March, the government allowed about 25,000 Rohingya to leave the camps and return to their home villages, but emphasised the situation remains dire.
“Muslim IDPs continue to face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, limiting their access to healthcare, education and livelihoods. This makes them heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. Many other people in the state remain vulnerable due to ongoing inter-communal tensions, unresolved citizenship issues, lack of documentation, restrictions on freedom of movement, chronic poverty and underdevelopment,” read the statement.