News / Asia

Burmese Refugee Boat Capsizes Ahead of Storm, 8 Dead

People dismantle tents before moving to safer grounds in light of an approaching cyclone, in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp for Muslims, outside Sittwe, Burma, May 13, 2013.
People dismantle tents before moving to safer grounds in light of an approaching cyclone, in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp for Muslims, outside Sittwe, Burma, May 13, 2013.
VOA News
The United Nations says at least eight people died after several boats evacuating Rohingya Muslim refugees capsized off western Burma, as tens of thousands scramble to leave low-lying refugee camps ahead of an incoming storm.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the accident occurred when a group of five boats carrying about 100 people struck rocks near Pauktaw township in Burma's Rakhine state. It said 42 people survived the crash. The fate of the others is unknown.

The accident happened Monday, as the already displaced persons were being moved to what the U.N. office called "other Muslim host communities" in that part of Burma.

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of a well-rounded Tropical Cyclone Mahasen in the Northern Indian Ocean on May 15 at 07:55 UTC. (Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of a well-rounded Tropical Cyclone Mahasen in the Northern Indian Ocean on May 15 at 07:55 UTC. (Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)
x
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of a well-rounded Tropical Cyclone Mahasen in the Northern Indian Ocean on May 15 at 07:55 UTC. (Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of a well-rounded Tropical Cyclone Mahasen in the Northern Indian Ocean on May 15 at 07:55 UTC. (Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)
Aid agencies continue to warn of a possible humanitarian disaster that could result from heavy flooding and mudslides late Wednesday or Thursday when Cyclone Mahasen hits the coast of western Burma and Bangladesh.

Most at risk are the tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, living in squalid refugee camps in flood-prone areas of Rakhine. They were displaced following Buddhist-Muslim violence last year that killed nearly 200 people.

Human Rights Watch is one of several aid groups that has for months warned of the incoming rainy season. In a statement Tuesday, the New York-based group said Burma did not heed the repeated warnings to relocate the displaced persons. If the government fails to evacuate all those at risk, it said any disaster "will not be natural, but man-made."

Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said he is not surprised that a boat full of Rohingya refugees has crashed, since the vessels being used to move them are too small for the job.

"The question is, where is the Burma Navy? The Burma Navy has a significant capacity to move people in a hurry. Why aren't they pitching in?" he asks. "Where is the mobilization of the Burma government to deal with this crisis at a level that is necessary?"

The U.N. said early Tuesday that 13,000 people were relocated in the previous 24 hours. But Robertson said it is not enough. He has received reports from some vulnerable camps in Rakhine that have not even been contacted by the government.

  • A vehicle moves internally displaced Rohingya to a safer place ahead of Cyclone Mahasen at a camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingyas wait on a truck to leave their camp Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya people take shelter in a building ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • Soldiers wait to help people move to safe location at a Rohingya internally displaced person camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • An internally displaced Rohingya woman walks carrying a sibling in a makeshift camp in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Novice Buddhist monks play in the sea in Sittwe, Burma ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, May 14, 2013.
  • Thandawli villagers stand by the bank of a river in a camp for Rohingya internally displaced persons outside Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • A Rakhine Buddhist woman and her child take in a monastery because of the arrival of the Cyclone Mahasen, Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Lightning is seen over the Sule pagoda and the former city hall of Rangoon, Burma, May 13, 2013.

To make matters worse, there is the possibility that the Rohingya may face more violence if they leave the walls of the heavily guarded refugee camps. Robertson says authorities must ensure the refugees are not subject to violence at the hands of ethnic Arakanese.

"Vulnerable Muslim populations are certainly at risk, not only from the cyclones, but also from the violence at the hands of the ethnic Arakanese communities, and in some cases from the local security forces, who we found were responsible for ethnic cleansing," said Robertson.

A small minority in Burma, Muslims face a growing, violent campaign against them led by radical Buddhist monks. Some rights groups say Burmese security forces have ignored or even taken part in the violence - a charge denied by the government.

But the incoming storm is now the more urgent concern.  Forecasters say Mahasen will continue to strengthen as it makes landfall near Chittagong in Bangladesh and moves into neighboring Burma.

Aid agencies are already preparing to help those who will be affected by the storm. In a statement, the Bangladesh Red Crescent and Myanmar Red Cross Societies said disaster response teams are on stand-by and are training locals in first aid and evacuation routes.

Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, said on her Twitter account she is very concerned about the cyclone, which she said could be life threatening for millions in Bangladesh, Burma and India.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma's Irrawaddy delta region, killing more than 130,000 people.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs