A boat en route to Malaysia carrying over 50 Rohingya refugees sank off Myanmar’s Rakhine state coast. About 23 bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, while 30 individuals are missing. The recovered bodies include 13 women and 10 men. There are eight survivors in total.

The crew left the boat to collapse on Sunday.

According to reports, a group of smugglers disguised as genuine boat crew, charged approximately US$4,000 from each individual for the trip to Malaysia before leaving the boat. The remains of the casualties have either been collected by other watercraft or found stranded along the shoreline.

The boat fee forced many Rohingya refugees to sell their land and other assets.

Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted ethnic minority in Myanmar, have long been subjected to discrimination, violence, and denial of basic rights. The perilous sea journeys they undertake to reach Malaysia or Indonesia have become an unfortunate annual tradition.

The motivation behind such treacherous journeys is rooted in the desperate desire to escape persecution and seek a better life elsewhere.

The Rohingya refugees’ plight, which has been ongoing for years, intensified after the Burmese military’s genocide campaign in 2017 forced hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. The refugee camps in Bangladesh, where many Rohingya refugees seek temporary shelter, are overcrowded and lack the necessary resources to provide dignified living for the displaced community.

Crossing the Andaman Sea in overcrowded and often unseaworthy vessels presents a grave risk to those on board. Despite the dangers, many Rohingya refugees attempt this journey between October and May, when the waters are calmer.

In August 2017, Myanmar’s army launched a crackdown on its Rohingya Muslim population. It led to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing their homes, seeking refuge from what the United Nations decried as an “ethnic cleansing” campaign.

As the Myanmar military offensive intensified, the Rohingya Muslims faced a harrowing dilemma – stay and face the army’s wrath, or risk their lives by fleeing. Many chose the latter, embarking on perilous journeys.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, issued a directive to Myanmar, urging the nation to take immediate measures to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya community.

Myanmar’s army maintained that it was engaged in a legitimate combat operation against Rohingya militants. Former Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (2016-2021) consistently denied genocide allegations.

The Rohingya Muslims constitute one of Myanmar’s numerous ethnic minority groups.

At the beginning of 2017, the Rohingya population in Myanmar stood at approximately one million. Distinct in their language and cultural practices, the Rohingya claim ancestry from Arab traders and other lineages that have inhabited the region for multiple generations.