Rohingya Muslims risking their lives through sea routes to escape persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state
Nearly 300 Rohingya Muslims, who attempted to flee Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, were temporarily detained and returned to refugee camps this month, according to local media and local government officials.
A boat carrying 93 Rohingya Muslims, who left camps in Rakhine state’s capital Sittwe in hope of reaching Malaysia through the sea route, was seized by Myanmar authorities near Dawei, a coastal town in southern Tanintharyi region on Nov. 25, reported Radio Free Asia, a local online media.
“That is the third boat being seized in the sea by authorities,” Col. Sein Win of the Tanintharyi Regional Police Force was quoted as saying on Monday.
“Of the 93 people aboard, 33 are women and 32 are children under 15,” he said.
These people left Rakhine state on Nov. 18, and had paid human traffickers around $300 each to take them to Malaysia, according to the police officer.
A navy ship has taken them back to Rakhine, he added.
The authorities also rescued a boat with 106 Rohingya Muslims aboard near Yangon’s Kyauk Tan Township on Nov. 16, as the boat got stuck at Adaman Sea after the boat engine failed, a regional lawmaker said.
A young girl died of fever on the boat, according to local police.
Call for improving situation in camps
Thet Thet Mu, Kyauk Tan’s regional lawmaker, told Anadolu Agency that 31 women and 25 children were among those aboard.
“Frankly, the authorities need to stop this. They need to prevent these people from leaving for the sea migration,” she said.
“They said they were leaving the camps because they can’t stand the situation there anymore. So improving the situation is also vital to prevent such further accidents,” she added.
It was the first time that Rohingya attempted to reach Malaysia by boat since the end of rainy season this year.
Last week, the authorities stopped a boat with 94 aboard, who were from a camp in Sittwe, shortly after setting sail.
A senior official at the Rakhine regional government, however, said six boats were believed to be bound for Malaysia since last month when the monsoon began to subside.
Three days after the first accident, police went to a camp in Sittwe claimed to have arrested alleged human traffickers. However it turned into a riot in the camp in which four Rohingya men were shot and injured. Of them, police claimed, two were human traffickers who charged 109 Rohingya around $300 each.
‘No hope of getting better life’
“According to police investigation, at least 500 people already left the camps, and headed for Malaysia by boat,” an officer, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Anadolu Agency.
The three boats apprehended by Myanmar authorities in the sea this month were among six boats bound for Malaysia, he added.
He admitted that the situation in the camps is not so good, but said that sailing to Malaysia is a bad option.
“We are trying to crackdown the human traffickers to stop further departures,” he said by phone on Monday.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, have been sheltering in camps since mid-2012 when communal violence erupted in the Rakhine state.
A Rohingya man, identified as Maung Maung, was one of them. He and his family members were placed in Narzi camp on the outskirts of Sittwe after their home was torched during the communal violence in 2012.
He told Anadolu Agency by phone that many of his friends already left for Malaysia last year, and he is thinking to follow the route this year.
“We have no hope of getting better life staying in the camp,” he said on Wednesday, adding he however don’t have enough money for the whole family.
He didn’t joined his friends last year because he thought the growing international pressure would bring some changes to them, but said he was wrong.
“Nothing improves, and we have to do something ourselves,” he said.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.”
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.