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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs