Fresh wave of Ro­hingya boats to Malaysia feared

Faced with a repa­tri­a­tion plan, many Ro­hingya Mus­lims have been try­ing to flee the wors­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions at refugee camps in Myan­mar and Bangladesh

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

BANGLADESHI of­fi­cials de­tained 33 Ro­hingya and six Bangladeshis aboard a fish­ing boat bound for Malaysia in the south­east­ern part of the Bay of Ben­gal, rais­ing con­cerns over a re­peat of the 2015 cri­sis when smug­glers aban­doned their hu­man cargo.

DOZENS of Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Myan­mar and Bangladesh have boarded boats to try to reach Malaysia, of­fi­cials and aid work­ers said on Thurs­day, rais­ing fears of a fresh wave of such dan­ger­ous voyages af­ter a 2015 crack­down on peo­ple smug­glers.

One boat at­tempted to set sail from the south­ern coast of Bangladesh on Wed­nes­day, the coast guard said, while sev­eral ves­sels left Rakhine state in western Myan­mar, ac­cord­ing to Ro­hingya lead­ers, aid work­ers and a mon­i­tor­ing group.

Of­fi­cials de­tained 33 Ro­hingya and six Bangladeshis aboard a fish­ing boat bound for Malaysia in the south­east­ern part of the Bay of Ben­gal, said Foyezul Islam Mon­dol, the head of the coast guard in south­east­ern Tek­naf Upazila. Six Bangladeshis were also ar­rested, he said.

A spokes­woman for the U.N refugee agency in Myan­mar said the or­ga­ni­za­tion had heard “sim­i­lar re­ports” of boats leav­ing the coun­try but could not con­firm their lo­ca­tion. “With the prospect of boat move­ments in­creas­ing fol­low­ing the end of the mon­soon sea­son, it is in­creas­ingly ur­gent for the au­thor­i­ties to take mea­sures to ad­dress the root causes of dis­place­ment... and cre­ate con­di­tions that foster so­cial co­he­sion and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties for all com­mu­ni­ties,” the spokes­woman said.

For years, Ro­hingya on both sides of the bor­der have boarded boats or­ga­nized by smug­glers in the dry months be­tween Novem­ber and March, when the sea is calm. The per­ilous jour­ney to Thai­land and Malaysia, of­ten un­der­taken in over­crowded, rick­ety ves­sels, has cost many lives.

Thai­land cracked down on the trade af­ter dis­cov­er­ing a se­ries of mass graves in 2015, lead­ing to a cri­sis when smug­glers aban­doned their hu­man cargo and left boats adrift in the An­daman Sea.

The new de­par­tures come as Myan­mar pre­pares to take some of the refugees back af­ter agree­ing with Bangladesh to start repa­tri­a­tion on Nov. 15, de­spite wide­spread op­po­si­tion from Ro­hingya, who say they will not re­turn with­out guar­an­tees of ba­sic rights, in­clud­ing ci­ti­zen­ship and free­dom of move­ment.

Ro­hingya refugees in Bangladesh are “ter­ri­fied” of re­turn­ing to Myan­mar, dozens of in­ter­na­tional aid groups said in a pe­ti­tion sent to the gov­ern­ments of both coun­tries Fri­day. The pe­ti­tion, signed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of groups in­clud­ing Ox­fam, Save the Chil­dren, and the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, de­scribed plans to be­gin repa­tri­a­tions this month as “dan­ger­ous and pre­ma­ture.”

“The U.N. has re­peat­edly stated that con­di­tions in Myan­mar are not con­ducive to re­turn at this time. Refugees con­tinue to flee Myan­mar, and fa­cil­i­tat­ing repa­tri­a­tion now would be pre­ma­ture,” said the pe­ti­tion from 42 aid groups. “They are ter­ri­fied about what will hap­pen to them if they are re­turned to Myan­mar now.”

The aid groups say that while it is true that Ro­hingya refugees want to re­turn to their homes in Myan­mar, they con­sis­tently say they will only do so af­ter Yan­gon guar­an­tees their ci­ti­zen­ship, free­dom of move­ment and phys­i­cal safety. The state­less Ro­hingya have been the tar­get of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence and vi­cious an­tiMus­lim sen­ti­ment in mainly Bud­dhist Myan­mar for years. Myan­mar has de­nied ci­ti­zen­ship to Ro­hingya since 1982 and ex­cludes them from the 135 eth­nic groups it of­fi­cially rec­og­nizes, which ef­fec­tively ren­ders them state­less.

A Ro­hingya refugee at the Naya­para refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Aug. 13.

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