Rohingya. Boat People

On May 1, 2015, a joint military-police taskforce discovered at least 30 bodies at an abandoned human trafficking camp in the Sadao district of Songkhla province close to the Thai-Malaysian border.

Many were buried in shallow graves, while others were covered with blankets and clothes and left in the open. Police reports indicate the dead are ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladesh who starved to death or died of disease while held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms before smuggling them into Malaysia. The traffickers controlling this camp apparently departed into the mountainous jungle, taking surviving Rohingya with them.
Rohingya fleeing abuses, persecution, and hardship in Burma’s Arakan State or Bangladesh are often trafficked and abused by networks working with official protection, while in other cases victims simply receive little protection from Thai authorities.

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Rohingya who are apprehended in Thailand are treated as “illegal immigrants” subject to deportation without regard to the threats facing them in Burma. Rohingya men are sometimes detained in overcrowded immigration detention facilities across the country, while women and children have been sent to shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Many more are believed to be transferred through corrupt arrangements into the hands of human trafficking gangs where they face crucial treatment and no prospect of assistance from Thai authorities. Malaysian authorities have discovered 139 suspected graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma were believed to have been held. The Malaysian Police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar said that a sweep of the hilly, jungle area found at least 28 camps along a (50-kilometer) stretch of the border.

In Andaman Sea

The fishermen of Indonesia have rescued thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers from sinking miserable wooden engine-boats, but some 8,000 desperate refugees are still at sea. Mainly ethnic Rohingya, who fled persecution in Burma, and Bangladeshi citizens who left their impoverished home country in search of jobs.

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This has resulted in extreme cases where people were allegedly thrown overboard, or whole boats left abandoned, its passengers left to fend for themselves against the harsh elements of the sea, many suffering and succumbing to malnutrition. A Special Meeting for Boat People was held in Thailand on May 29, 2015. The delegations from some 17 countries including Burma convened in Bangkok. The assistant commissioner for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Volker Turk said Burma needed to address “root causes” of the crisis, especially the issue of Rohingya citizenship. Among other things this will require the full assumption of responsibility by Burma to all its people, granting citizenship is the ultimate goal,” he said, adding that Burma must allow Rohingya access to identity documentation and the ability to lead normal lives in their own country. Htin Linn, the acting director of Burmese Foreign Affairs Ministry, shot back in a speech afterward, saying Turk should “be more informed.” He also cast doubt on whether “the spirit of cooperation is prevailing in the room. Finger Pointing¨ will not serve any purpose. It will take us nowhere”.

Rohingya not counted in Census 2014
Burma released the final results of its first nationwide census in 30 years on May 29 of 2015, but the count excluded the county’s Rohingya minority, as well as sensitive data on ethnicity and the religious beliefs of its 51.5 million people. Most of Burma’s 2 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in the western state of Arakan.
The Burmese government had committed international sponsors the Rohingya would be free to identify themselves as such in the census, conducted in March-April 2014, backtracked a day before it started and said the use of the term would not be allowed.

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In northern Arakan state, a considerable segment of the population was left out of the exercise amid ongoing communal tensions and the demand of many local people to self-identify as Rohingya, a demand not conceded by the authorities,’ said Vijay Nambiar , special advise to the UN secretary general on Burma. The count has also been criticised after its organisers based it on a list of 135 ethnic groups, which activists and critics say is outdated and inaccurate. (M.F.)


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