The Muslim minority is the target of a national hate campaign with politicians failing to address human rights abuses.
Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar poured into neighbouring Bangladesh this week with some feared drowned after a boat sank in a river during a bid to flee escalating violence that has killed at least 86 people and displaced about 30,000.
Some Rohingya refugees have been missing since Tuesday after a group crossed the river Naaf that separates Myanmar and Bangladesh. Those who managed to enter Bangladesh sought shelter in refugee camps or people’s homes.
“There was a group of people from our village who crossed the river by boat to come here, but suddenly the boat sank,” said Humayun Kabir, the father of three children untraceable since the mishap.
Although many of those on board could swim, and were able to reach the river bank, seven people are still missing, he added, his children among them.
Mynamar’s violence is the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in the western state of Rakhine in 2012, and poses the biggest test yet for the eight-month-old administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Soldiers have poured into the area along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh in response to coordinated attacks on three border posts on October 9 that killed nine police officers.
Myanmar’s military and the government have rejected allegations by residents and rights groups that soldiers have raped Rohingya women, burned houses and killed civilians during the military operation in Rakhine.
The international community has expressed concern.
“We continue to urge the government to conduct a credible, independent investigation into the events in Rakhine state, and renew our request for open media access,” US State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said.
Malaysia said on Wednesday that it was considering pulling out of a football tournament co-hosted by Myanmar to protest against the ongoing crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, risking a possible global ban by the sport’s governing body, FIFA.
Sirajul Islam, who arrived on Monday at an unregistered camp in Bangladesh’s southern coastal town of Teknaf, said he did not know what happened to his eight-member family after soldiers set fire to their home in Rakhine.
“I don’t know where my wife and children are,” Islam said. “I somehow was able to cross the border to save my life.”
Up to 30,000 people are now estimated to have been displaced and thousands more have been affected by the recent fighting, the United Nations says.
UN agencies have not given specific numbers of fleeing Rohingyas, but aid workers told Reuters news agency that hundreds crossed the border to Bangladesh over the weekend and on Monday.
Under military lockdown, a humanitarian effort to provide food and medicine to more than 150,000 people has been suspended for more than 40 days in the area, home mostly to Rohingya.
Many people in mainly Buddhist Myanmar see the country’s 1.1 million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Shawkat Ara, a girl in a refugee camp in Teknaf, who had arrived from Myanmar by boat on Tuesday, said that she hoped to return one day and locate missing relatives.
“When there is peace in our country, I will go back and I will try to find out about my father and uncles,” she said.