Rohingyas claim Myanmar abuse

Ethnic Muslim migrants say they were beaten on their way to Thailand in boats.

    The migrants say they were burned when the Myanmar army tried to set fire to their boat

    "This group, we are told, have all come from Arakan state in western Myanmar. What they got, they say, was more brutality by one of the harshest military regimes in the world," Downes said.

    "One man told us the Burmese Border Security Patrol twice intercepted their boat as it headed south towards Thailand. They say dozens of officers boarded the boat and severely beat them. Many of the men appear to have severe burns to their skin."

    The incident appears to be yet another case of the abuses and atrocities committed against a people viewed as defenceless and stateless.

    Exploited minority

    Myanmar refuses to recognise the Muslim Rohingya minority as a distinct ethnic group.

    Who are the Rohingya?

    The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group from the northern Rakhine state of western Myanmar, formerly known as Arakan state.

    Their history dates to the early 7th century, when Arab Muslim traders settled in the area.

    They are physically, linguistically and culturally similar to South Asians, especially Bengali people.

    According to Amnesty International, they continue to suffer from human rights violations under the Myanmar military government since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result.

    The vast majority of them have effectively been denied Myanmar citizenship.

    In 1978 an estimated  200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh.

    In 1991-92 a new wave of an estimated 250,000 Rohingyas fled to the country.

    Approximately 20,000 Rohingya are living in UNHCR border camps in Bangladesh.

    Human-rights activists say they have been abused and exploited, forcing many to flee abroad, mainly across the border to Bangladesh.

    Thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis leave the country aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work, with many travelling to Thailand by sea and then overland to Malaysia.

    The Rohingya migrants told Al Jazeera that they each paid a few hundred dollars for the boat journey they thought would take them to a better life.

    But by the time the Thai navy found them, they were floundering at sea, trying to keep their boat afloat.

    But this time, the Thai authorities did not dump them at sea, but brought them to the mainland to be treated by medical staff.

    The Thai military, too, have been accused of human-rights abuses against the Rohingya.

    A Thai naval officer  confirmed on Monday claims that Rohingya boat people from Myanmar, detained along Thailand's southwestern coast, were taken back out to sea and set adrift.

    The naval officer, who declined to be identified, told Al Jazeera: "We have to take the engines off the boats or they will come back.

    "The wind will carry them to India or somewhere."

    Humanitarian groups have accused Thailand of systematically abusing Rohingya migrants.

    The allegations surfaced after accounts emerged of a group of Rohingyas who were beaten and then towed back out to sea by Thai soldiers.

    Reports from survivors who washed up on India's Andaman islands and northwest Indonesia suggested as many as 550 of the 992 towed out to sea by Thai soldiers later died.

    The Thai authorities who rescued the latest group of Rohingya migrants, told Al Jazeera that once these men are processed by immigration, they too will be pushed back out of Thailand by land or, more likely, by sea.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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