Yangon, Sep 4 (efe-epa) .- Myanmar’s authorities returned 42 members of the persecuted Rohingya ethnic group to camps in conflict-torn Rakhine state after arresting them at sea when they tried to flee from the country, officials told EFE Friday.
The 42 Rohingya Muslims, including 29 women and two children, were arrested Aug. 27 along with five human smugglers when their boat tried to enter the sea, presumably bound for Malaysia – a usual destination for Rohingya refugees – according to sources from the Irrawaddy Region Police.
“We had information that they were approaching (from the waters of the neighboring Rakhine state, where the vast majority of this mainly-Muslim minority live), so we waited to detain them,” an annonymous Irrawady regional government official told EFE on Friday in a telephone conversation.
Following their arrest, the group was tested for COVID-19 and one of them tested positive and was transferred to a hospital in Yangon, the country’s main city.
The rest were transferred last week to Rakhine, where they were sent to one of the camps where more than 120,000 Rohingya refugees, a predominantly Muslim minority, have been confined since 2012, when successive waves of sectarian violence erupted.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya community that has been living in northern Myanmar for generations, as one of the nation’s ethnic groups and considers them illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, subjecting them to various kinds of discrimination, including restrictions on freedom of movement.
In August 2017, the Myanmar Army launched an offensive in the Rakhine region following a series of attacks on government posts by Rohingya insurgent group.
The United Nations’ highest court described the offensive as “ethnic cleansing” and said there were indications of a “genocide.”
The brutal military operation led to the exodus of more than 725,000 Rohingya refugees to neighboring Bangladesh, where they live in the largest refugee camp on earth, along with other Rohingya who fled in previous waves of violence.
Some 400,000 Rohingyas remain in Rakhine, confined in their villages or in displacement camps.
In recent months, several ships with Rohingya on board have been detected trying to flee to Malaysia, bringing echoes of a crisis in 2015, when several ships with at least 10,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi emigrants wandered the Bay of Bengal for weeks until the governments of Malaysia and Thailand decided to allow them to disembark.
According to UN figures, between 2012 and May 2015, some 170,000 Rohingya from Rakhine were put into the hands of human trafficking networks to flee to Malaysia or Thailand, but the authorities of those countries managed to dismantle these networks in 2015, so the use of these routes was reduced to a minimum. EFE-EPA