Category: Rohingya of Burma


23 November 2016 Wednesday

A U.K.-based pressure group has delivered a thousands-strong petition to Myanmar’s London embassy calling on the country’s government to confront the crisis plaguing the Rohingya minority.

Burma Campaign U.K. said Tuesday it delivered 3,164 signatures on a petition calling on Myanmar’s NLD-led government to tackle hate speech, lift humanitarian aid restrictions, repeal a 1982 citizenship law and support United Nations efforts to investigate the situation.

Mark Farmaner, the group’s director, said Myanmar’s military was using the ruling party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as “a human shield against criticism and action from the international community over the human rights violations they are committing.

“A new military crackdown on the Rohingya since attacks on border guard posts on 9th October has left hundreds of Rohingya dead, and at least 30,000 displaced. Restrictions on humanitarian aid, which were already causing deaths and suffering, have been significantly increased,” Farmaner said in a statement.

He added: “The international community continues treating the Rohingya as expendable in their efforts to present the situation in Burma as one of a successful transition requiring just technical assistance.

“The human rights situation for the Rohingya is getting worse, not better, and it is time their approach matched that reality.”

Rohingya Muslims — described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide — have for years been fleeing conflict in western Myanmar, with many using Thailand as a transit point to enter Muslim Malaysia and beyond.

The camps in which many live was recently described by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as “prison-like”, while satellite images of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State showed 820 newly-identified structures had been destroyed in the space of eight days.

Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya — described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide.

The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses razed — most of which belonged to Rohingya.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180555/uk-group-delivers-rohingya-petition-to-myanmar-embassy.

October 31, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Just five months after her party took power, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing international pressure over recent reports that soldiers have been killing, raping and burning homes of the country’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

The U.S. State Department joined activist and aid groups in raising concerns about new reports of rape and murder, while satellite imagery released Monday by Human Rights Watch shows that at least three villages in the western state of Rakhine have been burned.

Myanmar government officials deny the reports of attacks, and presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said Monday that United Nations representatives should visit “and see the actual situation in that region.” The government has long made access to the region a challenge, generally banning foreign aid workers and journalists.

But the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said serious violations, including torture, summary executions, arbitrary arrests and destruction of mosques and homes, threaten the country’s fledgling democracy.

“The big picture is that the government does not seem to have any influence over the military,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that focuses on the Rohingya. Myanmar’s widely criticized constitution was designed to give the armed forces power and independence.

A three-week surge in violence by the military was prompted by the killings of nine police officers at border posts on Oct. 9 in Rakhine, home to Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya. There have been no arrests, and a formerly unknown Islamist militant group has taken responsibility.

Although they’ve lived in Myanmar for generations, Rohingya are barred from citizenship in the nation of 50 million, and instead live as some of the most oppressed people in the world. Since communal violence broke out in 2012, more than 100,000 people have been driven from their homes to live in squalid camps guarded by police. Some have tried to flee by boat, but many ended up becoming victims of human trafficking or were held for ransom.

When Suu Kyi’s party was elected earlier this year after more than five decades of military rule, the political shift offered a short, tense window of peace. But that quickly ended as the former political prisoner and champion of human rights failed to clamp down on military atrocities.

The current crackdown has prompted an estimated 15,000 people in the Rakhine area to flee their homes in the past few weeks. The satellite images from Human Rights Watch show villages burning, and residents report food supplies are growing scarce as they are living under siege.

U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel has urged Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry to investigate the allegations of attacks and restore access for humanitarian groups trying to help. “We take reports of abuses very seriously,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman Jamie Ravetz in Yangon, Myanmar. “We have raised concerns with senior government officials and continue to urge the government to ?be transparent, follow the rule of law, and respect the human rights of all people in responding to the original attacks and subsequent reports of abuses.”

Families in Rakhine depend largely on humanitarian aid for food and health care, but that support has been cut off for weeks by officials who will not allow outsiders into the region. A government-sponsored delegation of aid agencies and foreign diplomats was supposed to visit the region on Monday, but local officials said they hadn’t seen anyone yet, and have not been informed they were coming.

“The government should end its blanket denial of wrongdoing and blocking of aid agencies, and stop making excuses for keeping international monitors from the area,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Mendoza reported from Bangkok.

17 October 2016 Monday

Rohingya advocacy groups worldwide are continuing to express serious concerns over what they claim is a continued military and police crackdown in western Myanmar, as authorities seek those responsible for the murder of nine police officers.

The nine died along with eight armed men in three separate attacks on police outposts on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in western Rakhine State on Oct. 9.

The outposts are located in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships, two areas predominantly occupied by the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim population — described by United Nations as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.

Late Sunday, a statement from the groups headlined Save Rohingya from Annihilation claimed that military and police have since been indiscriminately killing Rohingya and torching and plundering their homes and villages, under the pretext of looking for the attackers.

“Two mass graves were found, and about 100 Rohingya civilians were extra-judicially killed that included old men, women and children,” it said.

According to Myanmar media, however, since Oct. 9 no more than 33 people — including four soldiers and 29 suspected attackers — have been killed, including two women.

Monday’s statement added that at least five Rohingya villages had also been set ablaze as the army sought those responsible.

“The grave situation has caused many Rohingya to flee their villages. An estimated 5000 Rohingya have been internally displaced causing great humanitarian disaster. Due to curfew order and blockade, there is an acute shortage of food, medicine, and other essentials. The situation is exponentially worsening,” it underlined.

On Oct. 14, Myanmar’s government said that the initial raids on the police outposts were conducted by the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization, which it described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a shadowy extremist group that takes its name from the Rohingya.

It has blamed the attacks on non-Myanmar nationals, but has said they were aided by some members of the local community.

“The attacks in Maungdaw Township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organizations,” said a president’s office statement.

Though most experts believe the RSO’s continued existence is a myth, the government has classified it as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.

While Muslim organizations in Myanmar condemned the original attacks, Sunday’s statement said that they have since been used as an excuse to attack innocent Rohingya, and then claim that the Muslim community was burning down its own homes in an effort to gain international sympathy.

“Whilst these crimes against humanity have been manifestly committed by the joint armed forces with impunity, the authorities, as a part of an evil design, are spreading lies to the media that ‘Bengalis’ — a racial slur in reference to the Rohingya people — are burning down their own houses to leave the international community in a state of confusion,” it said.

Local nationalists have long labelled Rohingya “Bengali” — a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and therefore have no right to Myanmar citizenship.

It called on the European Union, United Nations and other members of the international community to make an objective assessment of the situation and help the victims of human rights violations on humanitarian grounds.

“We also request the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene into the matter and put an end to the military crackdowns on the civilian population,” it added.

On Oct. 3, Suu Kyi called on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states for support in solving the “complex situation” in Rakhine, home to around 1.2 million Rohingya.

Since her party’s victory in the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country’s nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country’s Buddhist traditions.

Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that the root of many of the impoverished region’s problems are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn the National League for Democracy hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Monday’s statement was signed by Rohingya organizations from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178794/rohingya-groups-say-rakhine-deaths-now-excuse-for-purge.

September 06, 2016

SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) — More than 1,000 Buddhists in a Myanmar state wracked by religious and ethnic strife protested Tuesday’s arrival of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying the Ghanaian is meddling in the country’s affairs by leading a government-appointed commission to find solutions to the conflict.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to “protracted issues” in western Rakhine state, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses by majority Rakhine Buddhists against minority Rohingya Muslims.

The state’s dominant Arakan National Party and the Rakhine Women Network led the protest about 300 meters (yards) from the airport in Sittwe, the Rakhine capital, where Annan and other members of the Rakhine Advisory Commission arrived Tuesday morning. As Annan’s car passed, the crowd shouted, “Dismiss the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission now.”

“We came here because we don’t want that foreigner coming to our state,” said May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident. “I don’t know exactly what this group is and what they are doing, but I came here to protest as I don’t like them to come here.

“I cannot accept them talking about the Rakhine and kalar case in our state,” said protester Soe Thein. “Kalar” is a derogatory word used in Myanmar to refer to Muslims. Many Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest in Rakhine state, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps there.

“We are here to help provide ideas and advice,” Annan said at the Rakhine state government office, where he met government and police officials, community leaders and members of nongovernmental organizations.

“To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace, share values of justice, fairness and equity,” he said. “Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must charge their own way forward.”

Before Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government created the commission, her international reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy icon had been diminished by what some have viewed as her inaction on the Rohingya issue. Her government still does not even use the word “Rohingya.”

“You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now,” Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told Annan and other commission members at a news conference Monday. “You will be able to assess for yourself the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them.”

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. During their six-day Rakhine trip, the commission will visit the Rohingya camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But the Arakan National Party said it will not meet or work with the commission.

“Rakhine state is in Myanmar and our country has its own sovereignty and there is no way we can accept a commission that is formed by foreigners,” ANP official Aung Than Wai said Tuesday.

September 05, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed confidence Monday that former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a commission he is leading to resolve religious conflict in western Rakhine state will help heal the “wounds of our people,” even as the state’s most powerful political party refused to meet with the panel.

The Southeast Asian country set up the commission last month to help find solutions to “protracted issues” in Rakhine, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses against minority Rohingya Muslims.

Majority Buddhists in Rakhine and across Myanmar consider Rohingya to be Bangladeshis living in the country illegally, though the ethnic group has been in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in 2012 unrest, and many continue to be confined to squalid camps.

“You will see for yourself all the problems on the ground now,” Suu Kyi, officially Myanmar state counselor and foreign minister, told commission members at a news conference. “You will be able to assess for yourself of the roots of the problems itself, not in one day, not in one week. But I am confident that you will get there, that you will find the answers because you are truly intent on looking for them.”

The effort is separate from peace talks that began last week with the government and many ethnic groups that have been at war with it for decades. “There is a wound that hurts all of us,” Suu Kyi said. “And it is because we wish to heal all the wounds of our nation, all the wounds of our people that we look toward Kofi Annan and all the members of the commission to help us to find a way forward.”

The commission is to address human rights, ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans. Annan said he is “confident that we can assist the people of Rakhine to chart the common path to the peaceful and prosperous future.”

Annan and the commission on Tuesday begin a six-day Rakhine trip during which they will see the camps and meet members of political and religious groups. But Rakhine’s largest party, the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Buddhist Rakhine majority, said it will not work with the commission.

“We don’t want this commission because we don’t want a foreigner’s human rights perspectives without actually understanding and evaluating the history of Rakhine people, and how can they know the root causes of the conflicts,” ANP secretary Tun Aung Kyaw told The Associated Press by telephone. “Whenever the United Nations’ representatives … came here, they never stood for Rakhine and didn’t do the true reports from Rakhine side.”

He said that if Annan “wants to meet us personally, not as a commission, then we can meet him to show respect.”

May 12, 2015

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Hundreds of migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers in Southeast Asia have reached land and relative safety in the past two days. But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats, migrant officials and activists said. With food and clean water running low, some could be in grave danger.

One vessel that reached Indonesian waters early Monday, was stopped by the Navy and given food, water and directions to Malaysia. Worried that boats will start washing to shore with dead bodies, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States and several other foreign governments and international organizations have held emergency meetings, but participants say there are no immediate plans to search for vessels in the busy Malacca Strait.

One of the concerns is what to do with the Rohingya if a rescue is launched. The minority group is denied citizenship in Myanmar, and other countries have long worried that opening their doors to a few would result in an unstemmable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.

“These are people in desperate straits,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, calling on governments to band together to help those still stranded at sea, some for two months or longer. “Time is not on their side.”

The Rohingya, who are Muslim, have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though their families have lived there for generations.

Attacks on members of the religious minority, numbering at around 1.3 million, have in the past three years left up to 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, where they have little access to school or adequate health care.

The conditions at home — and lack of job opportunities — have sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people since the Vietnam War. Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project, which has been monitoring boat departures and arrivals for more than a decade, estimates more than 100,000 men, women and children have boarded ships since mid-2012.

Most are trying to reach Malaysia, but recent regional crackdowns on human trafficking networks have sent brokers and agents into hiding, making it impossible for migrants to disembark — in some cases even after family members have paid $2,000 or more for their release, she said.

Lewa believes up to 6,000 Rohingya and Bangaldeshis are still on small and large boats in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters. Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, she said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported.

“I’m very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” said Lewa. In the last two days, 1,600 Rohingya have washed to shore in two Southeast Asian countries. After four boats carrying nearly 600 people successfully landed in western Indonesia, with some migrants jumping into the water and swimming, a fifth carrying hundreds more was turned away early Monday.

Indonesia’s Navy spokesman, First Adm. Manahan Simorangkir , said they were trying to go to Malaysia but got thrown off course. “We didn’t intend to prevent them from entering our territory, but because their destination country was not Indonesia, we asked them to continue to the country where they actually want to go,” he said.

Those who made it to shore aboard the other boats on Sunday were taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District, to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name.

Some were getting medical attention. “We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Myanmar’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago.

A Bangladeshi man, Mohamed Malik, said he felt uncertain about being stranded in Aceh, but also relieved. “Relieved to be here because we receive food, medicine. It’s altogether a relief,” the man said.

Police also found a big wooden ship late Sunday night trapped in the sand in shallow waters at a beach of Langkawi, an island off Malaysia, and have since located 865 men, 101 women and 52 children, said Jamil Ahmed, the area’s deputy police chief. He added many appeared weak and thin and that at least two other boats have not been found.

“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said. Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers. The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began tightening security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government as it prepares to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.

Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere. Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” from relatives. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.

Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims of smuggling rings, they say. Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.

Spooked by the arrests, smugglers are abandoning ships, sometimes disappearing in speedboats, with rudimentary instructions to passengers as to which way to go. Vivian Tan, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional press officer in Bangkok, Thailand said there is real sense of urgency from the international community.

“At this point, I’m not sure what the concrete next steps are or should be,” she said of a string of meetings with diplomats and international organizations. “But there doesn’t seem to be a clear mechanism in this region for responding to something like this.”

McDowell reported from Yangon, Myanmar; Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

May 11, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — About 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have landed illegally in Malaysia and Indonesia in the last two days, apparently after human traffickers abandoned their virtual prison ships and left them to fend for themselves, officials said Monday.

One group of about 600 people arrived in the Indonesian coastal province of Aceh on four boats on Sunday, and at about the same time a total of 1,018 landed in three boats on the northern resort island of Langkawi.

The Rohingyas, who are Muslim, have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Attacks on the Rohingyas by Buddhist mobs in the last three years have sparked an exodus to nearby countries.

Langkawi island deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed told The Associated Press that the group picked up Sunday comprised 865 men, 52 children and 101 women. Police found a big wooden boat trapped in the sand in shallow waters at a beach in Langkawi, capable of holding 350 people, he said. This meant there were at least two other boats but they have not been located yet, he said.

Jamil said a Bangladeshi man told police that the boat handlers gave them directions on where to go once they reached the Malaysian shores, and escaped in other boats. The migrant said they have not eaten for three days, Jamil said, adding that most of them were weak and thin.

“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said.  When the four ships neared Indonesia’s shores early Sunday, some passengers jumped into the water and swam, said Steve Hamilton, of the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

They have been taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District, to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name. Sick and weak after more than two months at sea, some were getting medical attention.

“We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Myanmar’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are now being held in large and small ships in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters, said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which has monitored the movements of Rohingya for more than a decade. She added that crackdowns on trafficking syndicates in Thailand and Malaysia have prevented brokers from bringing them to shore.

Some are held even after family members pay for them to be released from the boats. “I am very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” Lewa said, noting that some people have been stranded for more than two months.

Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, Lewa said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported. Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers.

The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began to tighten security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government as it prepares to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.

Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere. Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” of $2,000 or more from family and friends. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.

Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims, they say, of smuggling rings. Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named, Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.

__ Associated Press writers Robin McDowell in Yangon, Myanmar, and Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

May 13, 2015

LANGKAWI, Malaysia (AP) — Abandoned at sea, thousands of Bangladeshis and members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Musilm minority appear to have no place to go after two Southeast Asian nations refused to offer refuge to boatloads of hungry men, women and children.

Smugglers have fled wooden trawlers in recent days amid fear of a massive regional crackdown on human trafficking syndicates, leaving migrants to fend for themselves. The United Nations pleaded for countries in the region to keep their borders open and help rescue those stranded.

“We won’t let any foreign boats come in,” Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, said Tuesday. Unless they’re unseaworthy and sinking, he said, the navy will provide “provisions and send them away.”

Hours earlier, Indonesia pushed back a boat packed with hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, saying they were given food, water and directions to Malaysia — their original destination. Southeast Asia is in the grips of a spiraling humanitarian crisis, with about 1,600 migrants landing on the shores of the two Muslim-majority countries that over the years have shown the most sympathy for the Rohingya’s plight.

With thousands more believed to be in the busy Malacca Strait and nearby waters – some stranded for more than two months – activists believe many more boats will try to make land in coming days and weeks.

One boat begged Tuesday to be rescued of Malaysia’s Langkawi island, but it became clear by nightfall no help was on the way. One activist said she could hear the children crying when she got a call through to the boat.

Labeled by the U.N. one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Denied citizenship by national law, the Muslims are effectively stateless. Access to education and adequate health care is limited and freedom of movement severely restricted.

In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others into crowded camps just outside Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, where they live under abysmal, apartheid-like conditions, with little or no opportunity for work.

That has sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people the region has seen since the Vietnam War, an estimated 100,000 men, women and children boarding ships in search of better lives in other countries since June 2012, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

The first stop, up until recently, was Thailand, where migrants were held in jungle camps until their families could raise hefty “ransoms’ so they could continue onward, usually to Malaysia. Recent crackdowns, however, have forced the smugglers to change tactics — instead holding people on small and large ships parked offshore until they collected about $2,000.

Struggling to put a positive face on its dismal human trafficking record, Thai authorities have discovered more than 70 former camps near its border with Malaysia, the biggest of which was found Tuesday. It appeared to be newly abandoned, well-constructed and able to house as many as 800 people, said Lt. Gen. Prakarn Chonlayuth, the southern regional army commander.

Dozens of graves also have been excavated, the victims believed to be Rohingya or Bangladeshi. Spooked, agents and brokers have all but stopped bringing their human cargo to shore. And in the last three or four days, captains and smugglers have fled their ships, some jumping into speedboats, leaving migrants will no fuel, food or drinking water, survivors told The Associated Press.

In some cases, the Rohingya or Bangladeshis have succeeded in commandeering boats, bringing them as close to land as possible and then swimming the rest of the way. On Tuesday, a boat was stranded not far from Malaysia’s Langkawi island, with hundreds of desperate Rohingya, about 50 of them women, said Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project.

They told her by phone that their captain had fled days ago, and that they needed to be rescued. Soon after, she heard cheers, and people on board spotted a white vessel with flashing lights. When they realized authorities weren’t there to help, however, women started to scream.

“Oh! I could hear children crying!,” she told AP. “It was terrible! I can hear them.” A former U.S. Congressman urged the American government to step in. “Immediate action is needed to rescue thousands of Rohingya before the Andaman Sea becomes a floating mass grave,” said Tom Andrews, who recently returned from Myanmar and Malaysia, where he met with families of fleeing Rohingya.

Addressing the source of the crisis — the systematic government abuse and persecution of the Rohingya — is also crucial, he said in a statement. Tan, of the Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, meanwhile, said the waters around Langkawi would be patrolled 24 hours a day by eight ships.

More than 1,100 migrants have landed on the island since Sunday, the country’s Home Ministry said in a statement. Of those, 486 were Myanmar citizens and 682 Bangladeshis. There were 993 men, it said, 104 women and 61 children.

For now, survivors on the island were being held in two separate holding centers, women and children in the sports hall and the men in another facility. But they would soon be transferred to a detention center on the Malaysian mainland.

Fifteen-year-old Hasana was standing with another girl outside her temporary quarters. She said she was an orphan, having lost both her parents when she was young, and that she told her grandmother she didn’t see a life for herself in Myanmar, where it was a struggle just to get enough food to eat. The teen said she had decided to join a group of friends who wanted to go to Malaysia.

She paid $200 for what turned out to be a harrowing journey by boat, she said, describing how one man was savagely attacked just for asking for food. Looking around her at the chaos, she now worriedly asked: “Am I going to be sent back?”

October 25, 2014

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with the number fleeing by boat since communal violence broke out two years ago now topping 100,000, a leading expert said Saturday.

Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state.

That’s nearly 10,000 in less than two weeks, one of the biggest upticks yet. Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that only recently emerged from half a century of military rule, has an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya. Though many of their families arrived from neighboring Bangladesh generations ago, almost all have been denied citizenship. In the last two years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps, where they live without access to adequate health care, education or jobs.

Lewa said some Rohingya families have been told new ships have started arriving in neighboring Thailand, where passengers often are brought to jungle camps, facing extortion and beatings until relatives come up with enough money to win their release.

From there they usually travel to Malaysia or other countries, but, still stateless, their futures remain bleak. In Myanmar, the vast majority live in the northern tip of Rakhine state, where an aggressive campaign by authorities in recent months to register family members and officially categorize them as “Bengalis” — implying they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh — has aggravated their situation.

According to villagers contacted by The Associated Press, some were confined to their villages for weeks at a time for refusing to take part in the “verification” process, while others were beaten or arrested.

More recently, dozens of men were detained for having alleged ties to the militant Rohingya Solidarity Organization, or RSO, said Khin Maung Win, a resident from Maungdaw township, adding that several reportedly were beaten or tortured during their arrests or while in detention.

Lewa said three of the men died. “Our team is becoming more and more convinced that this campaign of arbitrary arrests is aimed at triggering departures,” she said. Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing denied any knowledge of arrests or abuse.

“There’s nothing happening up there,” he said. “There are no arrests of suspects of RSO. I haven’t heard anything like that.” Every year, the festival of Eid al-Adha, which was celebrated by Muslims worldwide early this month, marks the beginning of a large exodus of Rohingya, in part due to calmer seas but also because it is a chance to spend time with family and friends.

But there seems to be a growing sense of desperation this year, with numbers nearly double from the same period in 2013. Lewa said a number of Rohingya also were moving overland to Bangladesh and on to India and Nepal.

The United Nations, which has labeled the Rohingya one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world, earlier this year confirmed figures provided by Lewa about a massive exodus that began after communal violence broke out in June 2012, targeting mainly Rohingya.

With the latest departures, Lewa estimates the number of fleeing Rohingya to be more than 100,000. It was not immediately clear where the newest arrivals were landing.

Associated Press writer Esther Htusan contributed to this report.

October 08, 2014

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Authorities sealed off villages in Myanmar’s only Muslim-majority region and in some cases beat and arrested people who refused to register with immigration officials, residents and activists say, in what may be the most aggressive effort yet to force Rohingya to indicate they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Immigration officials, border guards and members of the illegal-alien task force in the northern tip of Rakhine state — home to 90 percent of the country’s 1.3 million Rohingya — said they were simply updating family lists, as they have in the past. But this year, in addition to questions about marriages, deaths and births, people were classified by ethnicity.

The government denies the existence of Rohingya in the country, saying those who claim the ethnicity are actually Bengalis. Residents said those who refused to take part suffered the consequences. “We are trapped,” Khin Maung Win said last week. He said authorities started setting up police checkpoints outside his village, Kyee Kan Pyin, in mid-September, preventing people from leaving even to shop for food in local markets, work in surrounding paddies or take children to school.

“If we don’t have letters and paperwork showing we took part — that we are Bengali — we can’t leave,” he said. Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which has been advocating on behalf of the Rohingya for more than a decade, said residents reported incidents of violence and abuse in at least 30 village tracts from June to late September. While the weeks-long blockades have since been lifted, arrests continue, with dozens of Rohingya men being rounded up for alleged ties to Islamic militants in the last week.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, surprised the world in 2011 when a half-century of military rule ended and President Thein Sein, a former general, started steering the country toward democracy. Critics, however, say reforms have stalled. Peaceful protesters are again being thrown in jail; journalists increasingly face intimidation or even imprisonment with hard labor.

Most worrying to many, the government has largely stood by as Buddhist extremists have targeted Rohingya, sometimes with machetes and bamboo clubs, saying they pose a threat to the country’s culture and traditions.

Denied citizenship by national law, even though many of their families arrived in Myanmar from Bangladesh generations ago, members of the religious minority are effectively stateless, wanted by neither country. They feel they are being systematically erased.

Almost all Rohingya were excluded from a U.N.-funded nationwide census earlier this year, the first in three decades, because they did not want to register as Bengalis. And Thein Sein is considering a “Rakhine Action Plan” that would make people who identify themselves as Rohingya not only ineligible for citizenship but candidates for detainment and possible deportation.

Most Rohingya have lived under apartheid-like conditions in northern Rakhine for decades, with limited access to adequate health care, education and jobs, as well as restrictions on travel and the right to practice their faith.

In 2012, Buddhist extremists killed up to 280 people and displaced tens of thousands of others. About 140,000 people of those forced from their homes continue to languish in crowded displacement camps further south, outside Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital.

Tensions surrounding the family registration campaign in northern Rakhine rose steadily after it began four months ago, with most of the resistance felt in Maungdaw township. Many villages were placed under lockdown, with police checkpoints set up to make sure only those who have cooperated could leave, more than a dozen residents confirmed in telephone interviews with The Associated Press.

In other villages, the names of influential residents were posted on community boards with verbal warnings that they face up to two years in jail if they fail to convince others to take part in the registration process, Lewa said. Other Rohingya say officials forced them to sign the papers at gunpoint, or threatened that they would end up in camps like those outside Sittwe if they didn’t comply, she said. In some cases residents say authorities have shown up after midnight and broken down doors to catch residents by surprise and pressure them to hand over family lists.

Villagers also have been kicked and beaten with clubs and arrested for refusing to take part, according to Lewa and residents interviewed by the AP. Lewa said that when authorities ended the blockades, they also stopped the registration campaign.

Rohingya said they didn’t want to register family members because they worry the information might be used to deny them citizenship. As international pressure mounts to end abuses against Rohingya, the government has agreed to provide citizenship to anyone who qualifies. But many Rohingya say they cannot meet the requirements, which include submitting documents proving that their families have been in Myanmar for at least three generations. And under the plan Thein Sein is considering, even that would not be enough for people who insist on calling themselves Rohingya rather than Bengali.

Myanmar Information Minister Ye Htut did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Win Myaing, a spokesman for Rakhine state government, said authorities’ effort to update family lists had an added sense of urgency because of concerns that Islamic extremists could try to slip across the border from neighboring Bangladesh.

It was unclear whether there was a specific threat from a new regional al-Qaida wing or Rohingya Solidarity Organization militants. “We have to know who’s who,” Myaing said. “We want to know who are strangers and who are not.”

He did not comment on the allegations of abuses. As to why the government insists on calling the villagers Bengali, Myaing said, “Because they are Bengali. What else should we call them?” Soe Myint Tun, the director of the immigration office of Kyee Kan Pyin, agreed.

“We are only checking the villagers’ family household lists and their identification cards. That’s all,” he said. “There are no ‘Rohingya’ in this country and the government has said that as well. We are just doing what we have to do.”

Associated Press writer Esther Htusan in Yangon contributed to this report.