FILE PHOTO: The New Humanitarian
Burmese authorities have intercepted a boat and detained 173 Rohingya ‘boat people’ off the southern coast of Myanmar. They believe that the group from the Muslim minority group were heading to sea to seek a better life an avoid persecution. They were intercepted by a Navy vessel who detained the group and charged them ‘travelling illegally’.
Amongst those aboard were 22 children.
More than 730,000 ethnic Rohingya fled the Rhakine State in western Myanmar, north into neighbouring Bangladesh, during August 2017 to escape a military-led crackdown by the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army). At the time UN investigators described the attacks as having “genocidal intent” and included well-documented mass killings and rapes. Burmese authorities responded by saying that the attacks were in response to smaller attacks on their soldiers.
600,000 Rohingya still live in the Rhakine State in an otherwise largely Buddhist Myanmar, restricted to living in camps and villages and unable to travel freely, or access healthcare or education.
For years, Rohingya have become refugees and been forced to seek refuge by boarding boats and heading south, usually bound for Malaysia, a country officially sympathetic to their cause.
But most of the boats are organised by smugglers during the months between November and March, usually for exorbitant fees amid false promises. Often the boats are intercepted by the Royal Thai Navy patrolling the northern Andaman Sea where the refugees are rescued and processed before being returned to Myanmar.
Others end up landing on Thai shores in the north and trafficked through the Kingdom by smugglers who promise them safe passage to the Malaysian border but usually extort large sums of money from them, sometimes incarcerating the Rohingya in camps where they fall prey to other human trafficking gangs.
At this stage authorities are unsure if the current vessel intercepted by authorities started its voyage in Myanmar or Bangladesh. A Bangladeshi coast guard official Saiful Islam told Reuters they were unaware of any boats leaving the camps on the Burmese/Bangladesh border for Myanmar.
“If we had such information, we would have stopped them,” he told Reuters.
Rohingya Boatpeople caught by Burmese authorities are often arrested and charged with ‘travelling illegally’. Hundreds have been imprisoned in jails and youth detention centres across the country.
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