About 50 Rohingya refugees were detained by the Myanmar Navy in southern Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region, after they were caught trying to leave the country for an unknown destination, a local official said on Thursday.
Five suspected human traffickers who were assisting them in their escape were also arrested.
Naval authorities discovered the boat carrying the Rohingyas on Tuesday night near the beach of Pauk Hla Gyaing village in Pathein township, though their place of origin was not immediately known, said village administrator Myint Thein said.
“We don’t know exactly how many people were found on-board, but at least 48 Muslims are there,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The navy is detaining those people and awaiting orders from the officers,” he said. “Authorities are detaining five traffickers in the case.”
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he had no information about the incident.
Kyaw Nay Min, a Muslim journalist and editor of the Yangon-based Chun Journal that reports on the Rohingya in Myanmar, said authorities should free the boat people.
“Those young people from Rakhine state are students, and they have difficulties in trying to go to school, and they don’t have job opportunities,” he told RFA. “That’s why they try to leave the state.”
“If the government is positive-minded, it should take care of them or send back to their original homes,” he added. “Moreover, the government should ask why these people are trying to run away.”
But rights activist Nicky Diamond at Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights said the authorities should work with international aid groups to help the Rohingya boat people instead of sending back to Rakhine state.
“If the authorities take legal actions to sentence them or to send them back, those are not the best ways to resolve the problem,” he said.
“Otherwise, the government may have a headache when it writes its quarterly report for the ICJ,” he said, referring to a legally binding order by the International Court of Justice in January for Myanmar to prevent the killing or serious injury of the Rohingya and report on its compliance with this and other measures.
The order stems from a larger case against Myanmar filed by The Gambia in November 2019, accusing the country of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during the alleged expulsion of Rohingya to Bangladesh amid a military-led crackdown on the minority community in northern Rakhine state in 2017.
The campaign of violence, which included random killings, mass rape, and village burnings, prompted more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in sprawling displacement camps.
In the last several years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled or attempted to flee persecution and poverty in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on boats organized by human traffickers and bound for other Southeast Asian nations, especially Muslim-majority Malaysia.
On Tuesday, at least 15 people drowned when an overloaded boat carrying 138 Rohingya refugees to Malaysia struck a slab of coral in shallow water and capsized in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladeshi authorities have arrested nine suspected traffickers in the case, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday. (Source: RFA)