ROHINGYA REFUGEES

ROHINGYA REFUGEES

Rohingyas have been leaving Myanmar and heading mainly into impoverished Bangladesh since the late 1970s. The biggest influx occurred in 1992. Some 30,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees live in an official camp in Bangladesh and another 200,000 live in makeshift settlements or surrounding areas. Bangladeshi authorities ordered three international aid agencies to close humanitarian operations for Rohingya refugee camps and pushed back thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers to Myanmar in 2012.

Over the years, thousands of Rohingya have also fled to Thailand. There are roughly 111,000 refugees housed in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Most of the refugees are Karen but there are some Rohingya among them. There have been charges that groups of Rohingya have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there. In February 2009 there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. A group of refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities also in February 2009 told harrowing stories of being captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at open sea

After violence against Rohingya in 2012 and 2013 the U.N. refugee agency said about 40,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh were living in two unofficial sites and the government had given an assurance that everyone would get help.

See Thailand THAILAND ABANDONS ROHINGYA MIGRANTS AT SEA

Refugees Displaced by the 2012 Rohingya Violence

Over 100,000 people—most of them Rohingya—were displaced by widespread abuses, arson and machete attacks in Rakhine state in 2012. Thousands embarked on perilous journeys on rickety wooden boats to other countries, where they are prey to human trafficking gangs. According to Human Rights Watch: “Lacking aid, protection, and facing violence and abuses, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled the country by sea since June 2012 with hopes of reaching Bangladesh, Malaysia, or Thailand, and many thousands more appear ready to do the same – several hundred people have already died at sea. [Source: Human Rights Watch, April 22, 2013]

In October 2012, AFP reported: The United Nations said an estimated 26,500 -- including 4,000 who fled in boats to the state capital Sittwe -- had been forced from their homes by the fresh violence. This adds to some 75,000 people already crammed into overcrowded camps after unrest in June. Reuters reported: “Barefoot Muslim men and women alighted from engine-less fishing boats and climbed the muddy embankment to Te Chaung camp carrying children and what meagre possessions they had salvaged from the inferno. Forty-seven boats carrying 1,945 Rohingya men, women and children have landed at villages near Sittwe in the past few days, said a local official, who requested anonymity. People at Te Chaung said many more boats full of Rohingya had left Kyaukpyu but had yet to reach land. [Source: [Source: AFP, Reuters, October 28, 2012 ><]

“Mohammed Jikeh, 34, a former fishseller, has lived here since the June violence, which he said claimed the lives of 11 relatives. "We have no hope," he said. "We want this violence to stop. We want to live in peace. But like this none of us can survive." "I am gravely concerned by the fear and mistrust that I saw in the eyes of the displaced people," Ashok Nigam, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator said in a statement on his return from a tour of Rakhine State's trouble spots. "The violence, fear and mistrust is contrary to the democratic transition and economic and social development that Myanmar is committed to," he said in a statement. ><

Rohingya Refugee Camp in Myanmar

Reporting from Sittwe, Myanmar, Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Just one Muslim district remains in the once-diverse capital, Sittwe, its entry points choked by barbed-wire barricades. On a recent morning, a line of monks in maroon robes walked past the charred remains of empty homes and a neighborhood mosque reduced to a concrete slab. The sprawling camps west of the city hold more than 100,000 people. Armed guards stand at checkpoints to ensure that those who have left do not return. Most families uprooted by the violence receive a monthly supply of rice, palm oil and chickpeas from the United Nations, but the funding that supports that effort will run out by April and must be renewed before the summer rains arrive. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, February 11, 2013 }{]

Abu Kassim clutched his stomach and heaved forward, replaying the moment his uncle was shot dead” by paramilitary thugs in the 2012 violence. “Abu Kassim, 26, and his ethnic Rohingya family have since survived on handouts in a makeshift camp on the fringe of this coastal city, unable to return home or look for work beyond military checkpoints. “There are no opportunities here for us, no hope,” he said. “We are prisoners.” }{

In October 2012, AFP reported: “Te Chaung camp was created after a previous explosion of sectarian violence in June killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000 in the same region. Already squalid and overcrowded, the camp was ill-equipped to cope with more inhabitants. The camp lies on a remote coast at the end of a pot-holed road from Sittwe. Its tents and two-story huts are linked by muddy lanes and guarded by about a dozen unarmed officials. The only obvious aid consists of sacks of rice from the World Food Program. The empty sacks double as sleeping mats. Many people bed down beneath trees. Reuters saw no medical workers. Some of the camp's inhabitants suffer from malaria. The children are naked and often malnourished. [Source: AFP, Reuters, October 28, 2012 ><]

Life of the

Internally-Displaced Rohingya Refugees

Kate Linthicum wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “It has been raining for four months straight. Aye Aye Than tries to keep her house dry, but it's not easy when your roof is made of U.N.-distributed rice sacks and your floor is made of mud. She and 19 of her relatives have been living in this lean-to since last October, when they and dozens of others fleeing a Buddhist attack on their home boarded a leaky boat to an unknown future. They sailed along the coast all night, eventually docking in the city of Sittwe, where thousands of homeless Muslims had clustered in the camps along the murky banks of the Bay of Bengal. [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2013]

Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “Muhamed Fourhkhat, 54, and his family have it better than most in the camps and the villages around Sittwe. They have managed — in a vastly reduced way — to replicate the lives they had as the scions of a well-to-do Rohingya quarter in Sittwe that flourished with markets, a primary school for Muslim and Buddhist children, a mosque and a monastery. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, March, 1, 2014 ^*^]

“In the town, the family lived on the top stories of two concrete buildings laid with polished teak floors, and worked downstairs at their hardware business. The land had been passed down through his great-grandfather, Mr. Fourhkhat said. The properties were burned by a mob, backed by Rakhine security forces, in June 2012, he said, and bulldozed by the government a few months later. So was every other structure in the neighborhood. ^*^

“On a recent day, the neighborhood was an empty stretch of land overgrown with weeds and littered with plastic bags waving in the wind. An eerie silence has settled over what, by many accounts, was once a friendly marketplace that served both Rakhine and Rohingya. Mr. Fourhkhat has never returned, though he could probably bribe a police officer to get there for a short visit. “Why would I?” he asked, pointing out that his beard, touched with henna, gave him away as a Muslim. “If I went,” he said, making a cutting gesture across his neck, “you would find my dead body there.” ^*^

“He has built a new, if less sturdy, home of bamboo in a Muslim village that sits astride the camps inside a security perimeter that is designated by the Rakhine government as a place Rohingya can live. “I have never lived in bamboo before,” he said. Mr. Fourhkhat’s son, Shwe Maung Thani, 28, is a graduate of Sittwe University in biology, getting his diploma before the state expelled all Rohingya students from the school. He has rarely sneaked out of the camp, but tried twice to get his sick mother to a hospital. She died in January after receiving inadequate medical care, he said. ^*^

Rohingya Refugees Who Have Fled Myanmar

At least 500,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape persecution since the Burma- (Myanmar) government began enforcing the 1982 law that virtually made them stateless.

Rohingya in Bangladesh

Rohingyas have been leaving Myanmar and heading mainly into impoverished Bangladesh since the late 1970s. The biggest influx occurred in 1992. Some 30,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees live in an official camp in Bangladesh and another 200,000 live in makeshift settlements or surrounding areas. Bangladeshi authorities ordered three international aid agencies to close humanitarian operations for Rohingya refugee camps and pushed back thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers to Myanmar in 2012.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens. In the 1990s, about 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in the face of alleged persecution by the military junta. Later, Myanmar took back most of them, leaving some 28,000 in two camps run by the government and the United Nations. Bangladesh has been unsuccessfully negotiating with Myanmar for years to send them back and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of others have entered Bangladesh illegally in recent years. [Source: Associated Press June 12, 2012]

The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, reported: “With 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees and anything between two and five lac (200,000 and 500,000) unregistered ones in Bangladesh, the country has long been at the receiving end of all the fallout of a problem created in Myanmar. As if that was not enough, the latest wave of persecution of Rohingyas from the Rakhine state put additional strain on Bangladesh's nerves. The country finds itself between the rock and the hard place. On the one hand, we share humanitarian concern with the rest of the world, but on the other, we are resource-constrained to host any more refugees on a durable basis. [Source: The Daily Star, September 24, 2012]

Bangladesh Turns Away Rohingya Refugees

In June 2012, Associated Press reported: “Bangladesh turned away three boats carrying 1,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, bringing to 1,500 the number of refugees blocked in recent days, officials said. "They have been chased away," police official Jahangir Alam said from Saint Martins Island in the Bay of Bengal after the three boats attempted to approach the shore of the island. "We are keeping our eyes open so that nobody can enter Bangladesh illegally." [Source: Associated Press June 12, 2012]

Bangladesh earlier said it sent back 11 boats with about 500 Rohingya Muslims aboard in the past three days. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference in the capital, Dhaka, that it was not in Bangladesh's interest to accept any refugees because the impoverished country's resources already are strained. Some still slipped into Bangladesh, and one refugee allegedly wounded by gunfire from Myanmar security forces died Tuesday at a hospital in Chittagong, a doctor said. Kala Hussain, 50, died from a stomach wound and two other Rohingyas are being treated for bullet wounds, said Anisur Rahman, a doctor at Chittagong Medical College Hospital. He said police took Hossain's body. Rahman said the condition of one of the injured was critical with bullet injuries in his head while another 20-year-old man is out of danger. They came from Maungdaw, where the mass violence broke out Friday, Rahman said, citing hospital records.

Meanwhile, A.N.M. Nazim Uddin, the chief government official in bordering Teknaf sub-district in Cox's Bazar, said several camps of police and border guards have been set up to prevent any violence in Bangladeshi frontier villages. Both Rohingya refugees and Buddhist Rakhines live in the area.

Rohingya in Japan

Some Rohingya refugees are in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “There has been an increase in the number of Rohingya people who continue to live in Japan as stateless residents. They have been ordered to leave the nation because they have not been recognized as refugees by the government, which at the same time has been unable to deport them to Myanmar, where they are not treated as citizens. While the government has been unable to craft effective measures to address the issue, groups supporting the Rohingyas are urging the government to grant them special residency permits at the very least. "I'd like [the Japanese government] to understand we're persecuted for our religious belief at home [in Myanmar]," said a 36-year-old Rohingya man of Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, who came to Japan in 2001. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun February 21, 2008 <<]

“According to an attorneys' group pressing the government to grant refugee status to Myanmars in Japan, many Rohingya people have fled Myanmar to avoid persecution since 1991, when Myanmar's military junta intensified an anti-Rohingya crackdown. The move eventually led to a wave of Rohingya people starting to arrive in Japan around 2004. Many are said to use counterfeit passports when entering the nation. Fewer than 10 cases were granted refugee status, though many more people were believed to have applied. Most cases resulted in the government handing down a deportation order. However, none were actually deported to Myanmar, according to the attorneys' group.” <<

“There have been at least six lawsuits requesting the government to grant Rohingya people refugee status, with three ending up in favor of the plaintiffs. The other three cases were turned down as the judges concluded the plaintiffs would not necessarily be persecuted only because they were Rohingyas, while the court acknowledged that discrimination exists against them. <<

“Foreigners receiving a deportation order are usually placed in an immigration authority facility until they are deported. However, in some cases, they are granted provisional release status, with restrictions on their place of residence and a limit on their range of activities while in the country. Many Rohingya people in Japan have stayed in the country with such status. <<

“About 90 percent of the Rohingya people in Japan live in and around Tatebayashi, working part-time at car or appliance factories. Two years ago, a group of Rohingyas in the area bought a house in the city to set up a mosque for prayer. Every Sunday night, 20 to 30 people gather at the mosque. After prayers, they discuss the problems they experience daily living in Japan.” <<

Lonely Rohingya Man in Japan

"Abudullah" is Rohingya man currently living in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: he “is 42 years old and in August 1988, he participated in pro-democracy protests in which several thousand of his countrymen were killed. He was a high school student when he joined a demonstration in a village in Rakhine State. Like many other protests, they were put down by the military. Abudullah's friend was shot dead, while he was detained for 10 days, during which he was physically assaulted. After this movement, discrimination against Rohingya worsened. [Source: Daisuke Tomita, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 2013]

“To escape persecution, Abudullah moved around Malaysia and Indonesia before finally entering Japan seven years ago with a forged passport. After his application for refugee status was rejected twice, he now lives under provisional release status as he has no nationality and no home country to be returned to. He cannot have a job and is dependent on aid and money provided by a nonprofit organization to a mosque. When he becomes sick, he cannot visit a doctor as he lacks the money to pay for health care.

"Why did I come to Japan?" "Do they expect me to steal?" These are the things he laments when he meets with associates. Although Abudullah married and had children in Indonesia, he is alone in Japan. Fearing for his safety, he was forced to leave them behind as someone reported him as an illegal immigrant. A volunteer who visited Indonesia in March brought back a letter from his daughter. "Father, how are you? I'm already a middle school student. I miss you very much since you left us when I was a first-grader in primary school. I've been waiting for you for a long, long time." Every time Abudullah tries to read the letter, he cannot finish it. "I want to see my family," he said with a trembling voice, covering his face with his hands.

Rohingya Boat People

Rohingya and growing numbers are now making treacherous journeys by boat to countries including Malaysia and Indonesia. Many have been in Rakhine state for generations, but the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and severely limits their movements.

Rohingya often flee Myanmar by boat after the rainy season ends in November. The United Nations estimated that about 24,000 Rohingya left Myanmar by boat in 2013, and more than 400 had died or gone missing during the journey.

The number of Rohingya boarding boats from Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh reached 34,626 people from June 2012 to May 2013— more than four times the previous year, says the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that has studied Rohingya migration since 2006. Many have ended up in Thailand. Thailand also denies Rohingya citizenship and considers them illegal migrants. Bangladesh also does not recognize them. [Source: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, August 20, 2013]

Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “As a way out of the bleak camps, nearly 80,000 Rohingya men, women and children last year took perilous sea journeys run by smugglers to Thailand and on to Malaysia or north to Bangladesh. Some drowned in capsized boats, and many were detained in Thailand, said Chris Lewa, the director of the Arakan Project, a human rights group. “The risk seems worth it to them,” she said. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, March, 1, 2014]

Kate Linthicum wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Some just want to escape. Aye Aye Than spent months trying to persuade her family to leave their crowded shack for Malaysia, where last year 13,000 Rohingya arrived by boat. Hundreds more died on the way. Her husband, Zaw Hla, said the family would set out when the rainy season let up. "If we die at sea," he said, "at least we will drown together." [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2013]

Rohingya Boat People in 2012 and 2013

The United Nations estimates that about 13,000 boat people, including many Rohingya, fled Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh in 2012, a sharp increase from 7,000 a year earlier. In January 2009, Myanmar said that Rohingya boat people found adrift in the Andaman Sea could not have come from Myanmar because they are not among the country’s recognized ethnic groups. [Source: The Nation, January 23, 2013]

Reporting from Sittwe, Myanmar, Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, Abu Kassim “is convinced that there is only one way out: to cross the Bay of Bengal by boat to join fellow Muslims in Malaysia. Abu Kassim is far from alone. Months after unrest...tension and despair are driving greater numbers of stateless Rohingyas to tempt fate on the open sea. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, February 11, 2013 }{]

“Although precise figures are difficult to come by, Rohingya community leaders and business managers involved in the exodus say the number of boat migrants has climbed to several thousand each month, with two to three wooden vessels leaving area shores each night, at times loaded to almost twice their capacity. “The government wants to make us miserable, to push us out,” said San Shwe Maung, 30, an unemployed teacher. Many Rohingya-owned businesses, he said, have been appropriated by the state. “We are like the second Jews.” }{

“Rohingya community leaders say it’s natural that more and more people are taking matters into their own hands. Only a limited window remains for sea travel ahead of the monsoon storms. Travelers often head out without navigational equipment for a crossing that could span hundreds of miles and take up to two weeks. “This appears to be the intended outcome of a dire situation in which Rohingyas have been consolidated, denied free movement and a means of earning a living,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.}{

“Would-be passengers are charged more than $100 for a space on rickety, 40-foot-long vessels. Charity is shown to those who can scarcely afford the trip, the operators add, but some payment is required to cover the hefty bribes owed each week to border guards at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal. The journey south is perilous. About one in 10 boats, carrying 80 to 150 people, either veer off course or disappear. “Of course we are very concerned about the risks, but the people are insisting they want to go,” says Shamshir, 42, a boat builder. The United Nations says that of the 13,000 mostly Rohingya Muslims who fled Burma and Bangladesh last year, at least 485 were known to have drowned. }{

“For refugees, the peril does not end at sea. In January, more than 800 Rohingyas were rescued in raids on trafficking networks in southern Thailand, according to Thai media reports. A Thai army colonel and another high-ranking officer are under investigation on suspicion of involvement, along with a local politician. Several Rohingya traffickers also have been arrested. }{

“With two days left before his scheduled departure from Sittwe, Abu Kassim assembled his provisions: biscuits, chocolate bars, bottled water and oral rehydration salts. He said he was sober about the risks ahead. “Of course we are afraid of the traffickers, but the suffering may still be less than this life, so we must try,” he said. “God willing, we will reach Malaysia.” }{

Myanmar Boat People Rescued Near Sri Lanka

In March 2008, ABC News reported: “Sri Lanka's Navy has rescued 71 Burmese and Bangladeshi people from a boat adrift in the Bay of Bengal. The wooden trawler started drifting two weeks ago when it ran into engine trouble. Twenty people died from starvation and dehydration before the Navy reached the boat. The Sri Lankan Government says the people onboard were trying to get to Thailand or Malaysia. The survivors will be taken to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. [Source: ABC News, March 3, 2008]

In February 2013, Associated Press reported: “Sri Lanka's navy says it has rescued 32 Myanmar nationals whose wooden vessel began sinking while making a perilous journey to Australia. A navy statement says the rescue was made about 250 nautical miles off the island's eastern coast on Saturday. Those rescued are being treated for acute dehydration. The group comprising 31 adult males and a boy had been at sea without food for 21 days when the navy rescued them after being informed by a local fishing boat. Survivors have told local newspapers that there were 130 passengers at the beginning of the journey and 98 died on the way and their bodies were dumped to sea. They said they were planning to go to Australia after their attempt to enter Malaysia failed. [Source: Associated Press, February 18, 2013]

Scores of Rohingya Fleeing Violence Dead after Boat Sinks off Myanmar Coast

In November 2013, around 50 Rohingya are feared drowned after trying to flee Rakhine state in a boat that sank in the early hours. Jared Ferrie of Reuters wrote: “Families of the missing people kept watch on the beach throughout the day, said Aung Win, a leader of the Muslim Rohingya community."I saw people waiting there to find dead bodies," he told Reuters by phone from the state capital, Sittwe. A security officer said seven passengers on the boat that sank were rescued and there were unconfirmed reports that eight more may have reached land north of Ohntawgyi, a village about 12 miles north of Sittwe where there is also a camp for displaced Rohingya and where the boat departed from. [Source: Jared Ferrie, Reuters, November 3, 2013]

Some survivors clung to debris while fisherman rescued others, said the officer who requested anonymity. The boat was carrying 60 people, he said. Ohntawgyi was the site of clashes in August between Rohingya and police who opened fire on a crowd that had gathered to protest after the battered corpse of a Rohingya fisherman washed ashore. The security officer said more violence erupted in Pauktaw, an area about two hours northeast of Sittwe by boat, killing at least three Rohingya and one Rakhine.

The body of a Rohingya man was discovered in an area near a Buddhist pagoda where a group of Rohingya had gone from their camp to collect firewood, he said. Police confronted an angry crowd at the camp and opened fire, wounding three people, including one who later died in hospital. A Rakhine woman was killed in what appeared to be a retaliatory attack, and the body of another Rohingya man was discovered on Sunday morning, he said.

Myanmar Migrants Stuck in Malaysia Detention Camps

Reporting from Sepang, Malaysia, Julia Zappei wrote in Associated Press: “A growing number of immigrants from Myanmar are ending up stuck, often for months, in crowded detention centers in Malaysia designed to hold people for only a few weeks. Almost 2,800 Myanmarese were detained at camps in July, more than double the 1,200 in January, partly because of a crackdown on human trafficking, a step-up in raids and a slow economy that leaves the migrants without jobs. People from Myanmar, a desperately poor country with a military junta, are now the biggest group among the 7,000 foreigners at detention centers in Malaysia. [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, August 16, 2009]

At a center near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, some 120 men sat in neat rows on the floor. Many had their legs drawn to their chests, and all were barefoot. There was not enough space and not enough bedding. "There is no soap for taking a shower, nothing. They don't give us anything," said Kyaw Zin Lin, 23, who said he fled to avoid being drafted into the Myanmar army. "Every day we eat the food just to survive. ... They treat us like animals." "It's very difficult to stay here," said Aung Kuh The, a pale 26-year-old. "We have got a lot of problems. Some people, you know, we want to see the doctor but we don't have the chance."

One reason for the rise in detainees is a crackdown on trafficking. A report published in April by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations cited firsthand accounts of Myanmarese who said immigration officers turned them over to traffickers. That practice has all but stopped, Myanmar community leaders in Malaysia say. Now, though, the Myanmarese are trapped in detention. The Myanmar embassy often takes six months to register its citizens for deportation and charges them 620 ringgit ($180), much more than neighboring Indonesia. By contrast, detainees from other countries are typically deported within a week.

About half the Myanmarese - those fleeing persecution - may qualify for U.N. refugee status, but that process takes up to four months. The others are economic migrants. Some 140,000 Myanmarese work in Malaysia, but foreign workers who are laid off lose the right to stay. Some Myanmarese have spent more than six months in crowded, dirty detention centers.

One man, whose brother was in detention for four months, said he would rather be sold to traffickers from whom he could buy his freedom. "I prefer to be trafficked," said the man, who would only be identified by his nickname, Ryan, to protect his relatives in Myanmar. "I don't mind paying 2,000 ringgit ($570)." Five of Malaysia's 13 detention centers are overcrowded; four of the five have large Myanmarese populations, according to the immigration department.

At the Lenggeng Detention Depot, 1,400 people are crammed into dormitories meant for 1,200. Of them about 300 are from Myanmar. Hundreds of men jostle each other for room in the bare dormitories. One sleeps on a stone ledge in a bathroom. Each dormitory is fenced by wire mesh and barbed wire, giving detainees just a few meters (feet) of space for walking. "The detention centers we saw fell short of international standards in many respects, as the immigration authorities themselves acknowledge," said Michael Bochenek of Amnesty International. "It's a facility of such size that infectious diseases are communicated readily."

Saw Pho Tun, a refugee community leader, said some immigration officers have singled out Myanmarese detainees for rough treatment, beating them and not allowing them medical assistance. Immigration officials deny beating detainees and say everyone has access to medical care. On July 1, detainees at another center flung their food trays and damaged some of the mesh fence. Immigration officials blamed the riot on frustration about having to stay so long, but detainees say they rioted because they were afraid of abuse. Most of the blocks have now been shut for repairs, so more than 1,000 detainees - including 700 from Myanmar - were transferred to other already crowded centers.

Human Trafficking and the Rohingya

In January 2012, The BBC reported that Thai officials have allegedly been selling Rohingya boat people to human traffickers. The BBC report said, "Thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's far west have taken to the sea in the last few months, heading east to Thailand. The BBC found that boats from Rakhine State were being intercepted by the Thai navy and police, with deals then being done to sell the people to traffickers." [Source: The Nation, January 23, 2013]

On allegations that Thai army officers were linked to Rohingya smuggling, the Bangkok Post reported. “Army officers from the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) are alleged to be involved in the smuggling of Rohingya migrants into Thailand, a police investigation has found. Army commander in chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has confirmed the officers' involvement to the Bangkok Post Sunday. A high ranking police source involved in the case said the investigation found the trafficking of Rohingya migrants - mostly from Myanmar's Rakhine state - to Malaysia via Songkhla had been going on for several years and was under the control of some military officers with ranks from major to colonel. [Source: Bangkok Post, January 20, 2013]

The Irrawaddy reported: “A Burmese monk has been arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle a group of Rohingya Muslims disguised in Buddhist robes from western Arakan State to Rangoon, Radio Free Asia reported on Monday. The monk from Mon State and the driver were charged with smuggling eight Muslim men and helping them impersonate the Buddhist clergy, the news agency reported. The Rohingya men were arrested for traveling without proper documentation. The United Nations calls Rohingya Muslims one of the world’s most persecuted groups. They are not recognized as citizens by Burma’s government, which forbids them from traveling between townships without special permission. [Source: The Irrawaddy, April 9, 2013]

Reporting from Malaysia, Julia Zappei wrote in Associated Press: “Police arrested five officers on trafficking allegations. They say their investigations revealed immigration officials took Myanmar immigrants to the Thai border and sold them for up to 600 ringgit ($170) to traffickers. The traffickers then told the migrants to pay 2,000 ringgit ($570) for their freedom, or they would be forced to work in the fishing industry, police said. Myanmar community leaders said women who failed to pay were sold into prostitution. Abdul Rahman Othman, the director general of the Immigration Department, said he was taking steps to prevent his officers from being "entangled" in trafficking syndicates. He said officers would be rotated to different posts every three years and have a buddy system to supervise each other. "Ninety-nine percent of us in immigration are good people," he said, denying the problem is widespread. [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, August 16, 2009]

Rohingya Refugees in Thailand

In August 2013 Reuters reported: “Rights activists are critical of Thailand's response to the influx of Rohingya and have urged the authorities not to deport the refugees back to Myanmar, where they face pervasive discrimination. More than 1,800 Rohingya who fled Myanmar by sea this past year are being detained across Thailand, often in overcrowded centers and shelters, and thousands more have been intercepted and pushed back out to sea by the Thai authorities. [Source: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, August 20, 2013]

The deputy interior minister expressed fears that the asylum-seekers would harm locals and discourage tourists from visiting Thailand. "The monsoon season will be over in two months and more boat people will come. We've asked the UNHCR to help fix this problem," Wisarn Techathirawat, deputy interior minister, told Reuters, adding the UN agency only took on a few asylum-seekers. "The rest of the burden is left to us."

Thailand denies Rohingya citizenship and considers them illegal migrants. Many Rohingya hope to end up in neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia where some have extended families but often fall prey to smugglers and traffickers in Thailand. A Reuters investigation found that Rohingya who fail to pay for their passage are handed over to traffickers, who sell some men into slavery on Thai fishing boats or force them to work as farmhands. Thailand's navy denies its personnel are involved in smuggling and trafficking networks.

See Thailand

Rohingya Asylum Seekers Escape Thai Detention Center

In August 2013, Amy Sawitta Lefevre of Reuters wrote: “A group of Muslim Rohingya asylum-seekers in southern Thailand escaped from an immigration detention center, highlighting the growing desperation of a stateless minority fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar. The 87 escapees used blades to cut through iron bars and hacked at cement walls before disappearing into nearby rubber plantations, prompting a large search operation, said Suwit Chernsiri, police commander of the southern province of Songkla. "The men were detained for many months and tensions were high," Suwit told Reuters. The jail break was the second after a group of 30 escaped from a Songkla police station earlier this month. [Source: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, August 20, 2013]

Wisarn told Reuters that the foreign media were guilty of painting the shelters and detention centers in a bad light and that the Rohingya had a tendency to act up for foreign media. "They know that it is difficult to go to a third country so when they see foreign journalists, they act up for the cameras."

Rohingya Float at Sea for 25 Days After Thai Navy Allegedly Takes Boat’s Engine

In February 2013, Bharatha Mallawarachi of Associated Press wrote: “Burma boat survivors rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy say they floated for 25 days at sea and 97 people died of starvation after Thailand’s navy intercepted them and forcibly removed their boat’s engine. The Thai navy has denied the allegation. Thirty-two men and a boy now detained at an immigration detention center near Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, were rescued when their dilapidated wooden vessel began sinking while making a perilous journey to Malaysia. [Source: Bharatha Mallawarachi, Associated Press, February 23, 2013]

All are Rohingya Muslims. The survivors were suffering from serious dehydration when they were rescued about 250 miles off Sri Lanka’s east coast. The Sri Lanka navy said they were alerted to the sinking vessel by a fisherman. “The journey was dangerous, but we had to do that … as we fear for our lives, no jobs, and big fighting,” one of the survivors, Shofiulla, told AP. Shofiulla, 24, said 130 people were on the boat when the journey to Malaysia started on Jan. 10. Each had paid $465.

After 10 days’ travel, he said the boat reached the Thai border when two boats from the Thai navy intercepted them. Shofiulla said the sailors took their engine. “Then we (had) no food, no rations … no water. We drank only sea water,” he said, adding the bodies of the 97 who died over the next 25 days were put into the sea. Col. Thanathip Sawangsaeng, a Thailand Defense Ministry spokesman, denied the allegations.

“This is absolutely not true. The Thai Navy officers would have not done that,” he said, adding that similar accusations have arisen in the past, including claims that the Thai Navy had abused the refugees. “The Royal Thai Navy commander has previously made it clear that the Thai officers have treated the boat people according to humanitarian principles.” “There are two approaches in handling the Rohingya: giving them food and help before letting them carry on their sea journey or prosecute them for illegal entry. However, it’s not possible that the Thai Navy would have done what they were alleged of doing.” The Thai army said last month that two senior officers had been suspended pending investigations into alleged involvement in trafficking Rohingya people fromBurma into other countries.

Shofiulla said he is a second-year student studying micro-biology, but that his university was closed last July after the fighting erupted. “We can’t go back to our country … our government kills Muslims… we are afraid to go back. We want to go to a safe place,” said Shofiulla, who appeared to be the only English-speaking person in the group. He said they wanted to go to Malaysia to find jobs, following in the footsteps of others from his village. He added 25 people were in the detention center while eight were still in hospital.

Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Controller Chulananda Perera said his department has informed the Burma embassy, seeking their cooperation in identifying the survivors to begin the process of sending them back but had not received a response.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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