Ro­hingya ex­o­dus by boat is ‘un­prece­dented’, says rights group

Mizzima Business Weekly - - AFFAIRS // NEWS -

Ro­hingya Mus­lims are flee­ing Rakhine State in “un­prece­dented” num­bers, with almost 10,000 peo­ple tak­ing to boats in just two weeks, AFP newsagency quoted a rights group as say­ing on Oc­to­ber 27.

A surge in boats leav­ing north­ern Rakhine, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya live, has seen about 900 peo­ple a day leav­ing Myan­mar to make a per­ilous jour­ney by sea, said the Arakan Project, a Ro­hingya rights group.

“This is very un­prece­dented, it’s such a mas­sive num­ber,” Arakan Project di­rec­tor Ms Chris Lewa told AFP, adding that a cli­mate of fear was con­tribut­ing to the ex­o­dus.

The end of the rainy sea­son usu­ally sees a spike in de­par­tures, but ar­rests and beat­ings in north­ern Rakhine com­bined with wor­ries that au­thor­i­ties were plan­ning to ex­clude Ro­hingya from cit­i­zen­ship had trig­gered the huge rise in peo­ple leav­ing the state, Ms Lewa said.

“It seems now that many have de­cided that there is noth­ing left for them in Rakhine,” she said.

Ms Lewa said 100,000 peo­ple have fled by sea from western Myan­mar since June 2012, when sim­mer­ing ten­sions be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims in Rakhine erupted into vi­o­lence that left 200 dead and 140,000 in dis­place­ment camps, most of them peo­ple who iden­tify as Ro­hingya.

The boats, many barely sea­wor­thy, head to Thai­land, Malaysia and beyond in an in­creas­ingly or­gan­ised smug­gling net­work.

Myan­mar re­gards the Ro­hingya as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh and de­nies most of them cit­i­zen­ship, as well as im­pos­ing re­stric­tions on travel, liveli­hood and mar­riage.

Ms Lewa said she had been told of ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions and grow­ing fears over cit­i­zen­ship, after a leaked draft “ac­tion plan” for the im­pov­er­ished state sug­gested those that who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied as “Ben­gali” could be forced into camps.

The Rakhine State gov­ern­ment de­nied the claims.

“They are spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion them­selves,” state spokesman U Win Myaing told AFP. “There was no ar­rest or tor­ture.”

The Arakan project is one of the only or­gan­i­sa­tions mon­i­tor­ing boat de­par­tures from Maung­daw in north­west­ern Rakhine, and in Bangladesh.

Ms Lewa said the 9,900 peo­ple who left in the pre­vi­ous two weeks, mostly from Rakhine, com­pared to 6,300 in Oc­to­ber and 9,100 in Novem­ber last year.

Ms Lewa raised con­cerns that noth­ing has been heard from the boats that left two weeks ear­lier.

Thai of­fi­cials said last month peo­ple-smug­glers had kid­napped dozens of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Ro­hingya refugees, in Bangladesh and traf­ficked them to a rub­ber plan­ta­tion in south­ern Thai­land.

Rights groups have pre­vi­ously ac­cused Thai au­thor­i­ties of hold­ing mi­grants in over­crowded fa­cil­i­ties or push­ing the boats car­ry­ing them back out to sea. [Mizzima]

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