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