Forty nine Rohingya Muslims in Yangon region were arrested by Myanmar authorities on Wednesday as they attempted to flee the country for Malaysia, a lawmaker said.
The 49 picked up included 28 woman, 18 men, and three children in a wooded area in Hlegutownship, said Myat MarlarTun, a lawmaker in Yangon’s regional parliament.
“They were arrested last night,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They are being interrogated. The authorities will transfer them this evening.”
“I don’t know if they will be sent to Insein Prison or someplace else,” he added, referring to the detention center on Yangon’s outskirts.
Thazin Myint Myat Win, an attorney representing the Rohingya, told RFA that the detainees will appear in court on Friday.
“They are going through medical tests,” he said. “The authorities are preparing their case files and getting testimonies. They will go on trial tomorrow.”
It was not immediately clear whether the 49 Rohingya would be charged with travelling without official permission, or with immigration offences.
The Rohingya were from Kyaukphyu, Sittwe, Minbya, and Buthidaung townships in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Thazin Myint Myat Win said.
“The police think there could be more of them in the woods, and they are still searching,” he said.
Another group of 93 Rohingya who tried to leave Myanmar for Malaysia by boat in November but were caught by naval authorities and arrested, appeared Thursday in a courthouse in Pathein township for another hearing in their trial on charges of traveling without official permission, RFA has learned.
They face up to one to two years in prison with hard labour or a fine if they are found guilty.
The adults are being detained in Pathein Prison, while most of the children are being held at a police station, while children four years of age and younger have been allowed to stay with their mothers in prison.
Rights advocates say officials are still not addressing the reasons why the Rohingya put themselves at the mercy of traffickers to flee the country.
“Whenever we observe human trafficking problems, we find the traffickers are targeting the people who want to leave their homeland due to instability and other reasons,” said Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, a Yangon-based organization that advocates for the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.
“So, people from Rakhine state become the target of traffickers,” he said. “They want to leave the country, but the authorities are not taking their actions seriously.”
Nickey Diamond, a Myanmar human rights specialist with the Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights, stressed that authorities have yet to address the underlying causes pushing the Rohingya out of the country illegally.
“The government needs to learn and address the root causes of the problem — why they are being trafficked, why is it that they are falling victim to traffickers, what does the government need to do to rehabilitate the victims?”
“They government needs to think about these questions. But now they are giving them prison sentences after they arrest them and send them back. This is not the answer,” he said.
Diamond previously told RFA that Myanmar authorities should issue travel documents for the Rohingya so that they can go wherever they want rather than being forced to return to Rakhine state. (Source: RFA)