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Shipwrecked Rohingya must go back to Bangladesh

February 14, 2011

The situation of the Rohingya - a Muslim minority from Myammar’s Arakan state, close to the Bangladesh border - is worsening with increased human rights violations and abuses by the border security forces reported.

The Situation of the Rohingya worsens, as they have nowhere to go
The Situation of the Rohingya worsens, as they have nowhere to goImage: AP

In the latest incident Indian police said 91 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh have landed on India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, claiming they had been turned back into the sea by the Thai Navy.

Superintendent S.B.S. Tyagi said police found them last Saturday as they swam into a village after their engine-less boat ran aground. Tyagi told The Associated Press Friday that 28 of them were hospitalized as they were emaciated and weak.

The situation of the Rohingya refugees is worsening with increased human rights violations
Increased human rights violations are making life even worse for the RohingyaImage: AP

The Rohingya refugees told Indian police that the Thai Navy held them on January 13 and kept them in an isolated place for five days for illegally entering their waters.

Thai Naval officers towed them out to sea and left them adrift in an engineless boat on January 19 after giving them some rice, drinking water and cooking utensils, they were quoted as saying in the reports.

Thai authorities deny setting adrift Rohingyas

Thailand's Navy has denied setting adrift Rohingya immigrants trying to enter the country illegally by sea. Thai Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said on Friday that it was unlikely that the Rohingya refugees were pushed out into the sea by the Navy.

"The normal practice is to prosecute refugees who illegally enter Thai waters and then deport them via land. Normally navy officers try to keep the refugees out of Thai waters unless they need help. Their destination was Malaysia, not Thailand," explained Panitan.

But he said the government would look into the matter. Parinyatham Phulphithaktham, director of civilian affairs for the Navy, denied that naval officers pushed the Rohingyas out to sea. Thai Immigration Bureau has also denied it had a policy of pushing away Rohingya immigrants.

The Rohingyas' journey across the Andaman sea to southern Thailand signals the possibility a flotilla of refugees will follow
Their journey across the Andaman sea to southern Thailand signals the possibility many could followImage: AP

Earlier, the bureau received 135 illegal Rohingya immigrants who arrived on boats, who had been under detention in Songkhla, Phuket, and Phangnga, the reports said.

"We have done nothing as accused and the proof is the 1000 or more illegal Rohingya immigrants we have received over the past year. We don't have enough cells to detain them in," said Pol Maj Gen Phansak.

Reports say the Rohingyas were trying to enter Malaysia illegally via Thailand with the help of agents but were caught by Thai authorities. All 91 refugees were taken to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, from where they will be repatriated to Bangladesh.

Southeast Asia's newest “boat people”

Refugee and human rights activists who have documented the accounts of the Rohingyas fear that their journey across the Andaman Sea to southern Thailand signals the possibility that a wave of refugees will follow, now that the ocean has regained its post-monsoon calm.

"The (first) two boats had apparently been 12 days at sea," Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which researchers human rights violations that the Rohingyas face in Burma, told Inter Press Service (IPS).

"We were informed that one boat with about 100 people had left on the night of January 9 and another boat on January 10 or 11 with about 70 people." Lewa has been tracking the persecution the Rohingyas have endured at the hands of the Burmese military in the Arakan state, close to the Bangladeshi border.

Rohingya immigrants on Thai waters are often caught and detained
Rohingya immigrants are often caught and detained in Thai watersImage: picture alliance/dpa

The men who made it to Thailand's shores - including the island of Phuket, which attracts millions of tourists annually - were the fortunate ones. "Four boats left earlier and have not been heard of," Lewa told IPS.

Rohingya – a profile of stateless people

The Rohingyas' arrival has brought into focus the continuing plight the Rohingyas face in predominantly Buddhist Burma and the fate that awaits those who seek refuge in Thailand.

”The problem stems from the Thai government's reluctance to see Rohingyas as refugees,” says Anoop Sukumaran, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network, which has 120 civil society organizations from across the continent as its members. “The Rohingyas are seen as economic migrants but more importantly as a security threat.”

”The Rohingyas are a doubly threatened community,” Sukumaran told IPS. ”They perfectly fit the profile of refugees and also fit the profile of stateless people.”

Few among Burma's nearly 135 ethnic minority groups have been subject to the scale of abuse by government troops as much the Rohingya have in the Arakan State. The military regime even announced that the Rohingyas were not Burmese citizens, restricted their movement between villages, banned them from freely getting married, and subjected the community to forced labor.

A wave of oppression unleashed in 1991, saw close to 250,000 Rohingyas flee the Arakan state for neighboring Bangladesh. "The Rohingyas still have a reason to flee and seek refugee status," according to Nurul Islam, president of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization, a London- based network campaigning for the Rohingya's political rights.

"Restrictions on education, trade and business are still imposed, and arrest, torture and extortion are a regular phenomenon," Islam told IPS. "There is no freedom of religion and mosques cannot conduct repairs without the permission from the concerned authorities."

The Rohingyas are a doubly threatened community - fitting the profile of refugees and stateless people
The Rohingyas are a doubly threatened community - fitting the profile of refugees and stateless peopleImage: DW

Currently, over 1.5 million Rohingyas live in exile in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.

They have been denied citizenship in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, with the latter claiming the community originated in Bangladesh. Thailand's military regards the Rohingyas as a security threat, fearing they would join the separatist movement in Muslim-majority southern Thailand.

Author: Sherpem Shepa (PTI, IPS, dpa)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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