GENEVA: The thousands of Rohingya Muslims still flooding out of Myanmar’s Rakhine state two years after violence erupted there are facing increasing abuse and exploitation, the United Nations refugee agency warned on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Two waves of deadly communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2012 left some 200 people dead and around 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya.
“Two years after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, thousands of people are still leaving by boat from the Bay of Bengal,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
“Reports of abuse and exploitation as people seek safety and stability elsewhere are meanwhile increasing,” he said.
Edwards said the desperate refugees faced abuse and exploitation from smugglers and traffickers en route, but also once they reached countries like Thailand and Malaysia.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 86,000 people have left the area by boat from the Bay of Bengal since June 2012, including 15,000 between January and April this year alone.
“People who have made it to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia have told UNHCR staff about overcrowded boats that sometimes lost their way or developed engine problems,” Edwards said.
Boats sometimes ran out of food and water, and people who died along the way were said to have been thrown overboard, he said.
Some of those who reached Thailand told the UNHCR they had been taken to overcrowded “smugglers’ camps” in the jungles or hills near the Thailand-Malaysia border, where they were kept for months —“sometimes in cages”—until their families could pay for their release, Edwards said.
“They recount daily beatings and that some people died,” he said, adding that “they spent their days sitting in confined spaces and nights sleeping upright or in fetal position due to the lack of space.”
The stateless Rohingya are considered by the UN to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Many of the displaced have gone without access to healthcare and other help after attacks on international humanitarian groups by Buddhist extremists earlier this year.
The UNHCR said on Tuesday that humanitarian assistance had resumed and that it remained “committed to providing temporary shelters, coordinating camp management and addressing a difficult protection situation” in Rakhine.
However, Edwards said: “We are wary of activities that could entrench segregation and protracted displacement.”