Myanmar authorities have seized a boat carrying 93 Rohingya Muslims who fled a displaced persons camp in Rakhine state and were heading to Malaysia, a police official from Tanintharyi region said Wednesday.
The boat carrying 28 men, 33 women, and 32 children from the Darpaing displacement camp in Rakhine’s Sittwe township was seized on Nov. 25 off the coast of Tanintharyi’s Dawei district in southern Myanmar, according to a police document.
We will send them back to their former places [of residence],” said Police Lieutenant Colonel Sein Win of the Tanintharyi Regional Police Force. “The Union government has provided a ship in which to place them for the time being, and the military has provided them with whatever they need.”
Some of the Rohingya onboard had temporary identity cards, known as white cards, given mostly to members of the minority group who have yet to be verified as citizens of the country, while others have official documents that show they lived in Sittwe’s Thaechaung village tract, the police document said.
The Rohingya who left their camp on Nov. 18 had to pay human traffickers 500,000 kyats (U.S. $312) each to take them to Malaysia, it said.
A naval boat found the Rohingya adrift in the Andaman Sea after their vessel had lost its way.
Authorities are detaining the Rohingya while they conduct an investigation to determine if the boat people should be prosecuted for trying to cross an international border illegally, and police are waiting for instructions from the central government as to what to do with them next, according to another officer who did not provide his name and to regional lawmaker Bo Htway.
Held at sea
The Rohingya have been given medical care and meals while they stay temporarily on a large ship near a port, Bo Htway said.
The navy is keeping them at sea because it fears that locals may attack the Rohingya, who are despised and persecuted in Myanmar and have been blamed for “terrorist” attacks in Rakhine state, if they were brought ashore, the online journal The Irrawaddy said.
When RFA contacted Soe Aung, Myanmar’s deputy minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, about what the central government plans for the latest group of Rohingya boat people, he said he didn’t know anything about it.
“No one has informed our ministry about it yet,” he said.
“If we need to do something for those who were arrested in Launglon township [in Dawei district], we just need to inform our regional office in Tanintharyi region,” he said.
Ho Pin, Tanintharyi’s social affairs minister, said he had not been in contact with the regional government for two days while attending a meeting in Yangon, but added that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement called him Tuesday morning to inform him about the boat people.
“They said their ministry will provide some food to the refugees,” he said.
The third attempt
The incident was the third time that Rohingya from displacement camps in Rakhine state have attempted to reach Malaysia by boat since the monsoon season ended in late October.
On Nov. 16, naval authorities rescued a group of 106 Rohingya from Rakhine camps who paid traffickers to take them to Malaysia in hopes of a better life when their boat’s engine failed and they were stranded in the Andaman Sea offshore of Kyauktan township in Yangon region.
Also last week, another vessel with dozens of Rohingya from the Darpaing displacement camp who left Sittwe on Nov. 18 was detained in Rakhine state shortly after setting sail.
Communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state in 2012 left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 others, mostly Rohingya who ended up in displacement camps.
In the last few years, tens of thousands of them have fled or attempted to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on boats organized by human traffickers and bound for other Southeast Asian nations.
Authorities had to rescue many Rohingya stranded on rickety boats in 2015 after smugglers left the boats adrift in the Andaman Sea, amid a crackdown on their illegal activities by Thai authorities.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.