Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh on Monday in a new surge of refugees driven by fears of starvation and violence the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.
Reuters reporters on the Bangladeshi side of the border, in Palong Khali district, saw several thousand people crossing from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, filing along embankments between flooded fields and scrubby forest.
“Half of my village was burnt down. I saw them do it,” said Sayed Azin, 46, who said he had walked for eight days carrying his 80-year-old mother in a basket strung on a bamboo pole between him and his son.
Soldiers and Buddhist mobs had torched his village, he said.
“I left everything,” he said, sobbing. “I can’t find my relatives … I can’t take this anymore.”
Some new arrivals spoke of bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs on people trekking toward the border.
14 dead as boat sinks
At least 14 Rohingya refugees, most of them children, drowned and scores more were missing Monday after their overloaded boat capsized in the latest tragedy to strike those fleeing violence in Myanmar.
Authorities in Bangladesh said the boat was carrying between 60 and 100 people when it overturned and sank in rough seas on Sunday night.
The bodies of 11 children, two women and a man were washed up on Shah Porir Dwip island in Bangladesh and border guards pulled 13 survivors from the sea, but the fate of the others remains unknown.
About 519,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when attacks on security posts in Rakhine sparked a ferocious military response.
Refugees and rights groups say the army and Buddhist vigilantes have engaged in a campaign of killing and arson aimed at driving the Rohingya out of Myanmar.
Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labeled the militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the initial attacks in August as terrorists who have killed civilians and burnt villages.
The European Union proposes cutting back contacts with Myanmar’s top generals in a first step to increase sanctions over the army offensive that has driven Rohingya Muslims out of the country, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
The bloc “will suspend invitations to the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar/Burma armed forces and other senior military officers”, read the draft for agreement by EU foreign ministers meeting next Monday.
The document, to be discussed further by envoys from the 28 EU states today, said the EU “may consider further measures” depending on developments on the ground “but also stands ready to respond accordingly to positive developments”.
The document confirmed support for an existing EU embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for “internal repression”. The United States is also considering new targeted sanctions on Myanmar.