SITTWE, MYANMAR – (AFP)Nearly 200 Rohingya Muslims arrested at sea last month by Myanmar’s navy after a voyage of hundreds of kilometes have been sent back to Rakhine state, officials said Monday.
Seasonal calmer waters have seen an increase in the number of Rohingya putting their lives in the hands of traffickers in a desperate bid to reach Malaysia or Indonesia by boat.
But few make it as far as Kawthaung, Myanmar’s southern-most tip, where the group of 173 were picked up mid-December.
Images taken on Monday showed 17 men, women and children looking exhausted from their ordeal as they climbed down from a wooden boat on to a beach near western Rakhine state’s capital, Sittwe.
Wearing identification numbers around their necks, they lined up on the sand clutching their meager belongings before being escorted away by armed police.
They were taken to Thechaung camp, while the remaining 156 were transported further north to Ngakhuya camp in Maungdaw township, the Rakhine State minister for security and border affairs said.
Ngakhuya is a processing site for returning refugees on the Bangladeshi border.
“I’m not sure whether action will be taken against them or not,” Col. Min Than told AFP by phone, adding that their fate would be decided by the UEHRD, a government department overseeing Rakhine.
A bloody military crackdown in 2017 forced some 740,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh in violence that has seen Myanmar accused of “genocide” at the UN’s top court in The Hague.
Bangladesh has made life increasingly unbearable in the sprawling camps with barbed-wire fences, an internet blackout and the confiscation of phones.
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands more Rohingya remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine in what Amnesty International has branded “apartheid” conditions.
They have nearly no freedom of movement and little access to work, education and health care.
The captured Rohingya came from both sides of the border, Min Than said, although it was unclear how they ended up on the same boat.