May 24 (Reuters) – Dozens of ethnic Rohingya refugees are dead or missing after a boat with around 90 people on board, including children, capsized and sank in bad weather off the coast of Myanmar in over the weekend, according to media reports.

More than 20 survivors have been arrested by authorities in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region, US-funded Radio Free Asia reported, citing residents of the coastal district of Shwe Taung Yan.

Survivors say the boat, which was bound for Malaysia, ran into trouble days after leaving Sittwe, Myanmar’s Rakhine state, on May 19, the Ayeyarwaddy Times reported. So far, at least 14 bodies have been found, but more than 50 people are still missing, Radio Free Asia reported.

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There are only around 600,000 Rohingya Muslims left in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country with a long history of military rule. The Rohingya have been rendered stateless by Myanmar and, following past ethnic violence and persecution, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 148,000 of them are displaced, many of whom live in some camps.

A spokesman for the military government did not respond to a request for comment on the latest reported tragedy involving Rohingya people perishing at sea trying to escape persecution in Myanmar.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape an army-led crackdown that UN investigators say was carried out with “genocidal intent” and included massacres and rape.

Myanmar has denied widespread atrocities, portraying the violence as a response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

The other main destination for Rohingya refugees is Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country seen as friendly although they are not officially recognized as refugees there.

Some 630 Rohingya attempted sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal between January and May this year, UNHCR said, noting that women and children made up 60 percent of sea crossings.

“The latest tragedy once again demonstrates the sense of desperation felt by the Rohingya in Myanmar and the region,” said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific, in a statement.

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Reporting by Reuters staff Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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