UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday it was receiving increasing reports of abuse and exploitation as people continue to seek safety overseas two years after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the first of which occurred in June 2012, have affected hundreds of thousands of families in the country’s western region. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 86,000 people have left on boats since the violence began two years ago, including nearly 15,000 from January to April this year.
“The majority are Rohingya, although anecdotally the proportion of Bangladeshis has grown this year,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
Across the region, the agency continues to advocate for temporary stay arrangements for the Rohingya until the situation stabilizes sufficiently in Rakhine state for them to return. “These arrangements involve acquiring the documented right to remain in the host country for the designated period, protection against arbitrary detention, respect for family unity, guarantees of shelter as well as access to services and lawful work opportunities,” said Edwards.
Some of those who have reached Thailand speak of being taken to smugglers’ camps in the jungles or hills near the Thailand-Malaysia border. There they were kept for months in overcrowded camps and sometimes even cages until their families could pay for their release, according to UNHCR.
The Thai authorities have conducted several raids on these camps, rescuing hundreds of people, including some 500 Rohingya earlier this year, said UNHCR, which providing relief and advocating for a more clearly defined temporary protection regime during their stay in Thailand that would include, for example, access to education for the children and enhanced freedom of movement.
“Most immediately, to facilitate recovery and improve conditions of stay from the current immigration detention centres, we have offered to support rehabilitation centres where families can stay together and basic community activities can be organized while longer-term solutions are sought. The most vulnerable cases are submitted for consideration by resettlement countries,” Edwards said.
In Malaysia, where UNHCR has registered more than 35,000 Rohingya over the years, there have been increased reports of smuggling and trafficking from Thailand of people from Myanmar. Reliable reports indicate these groups frequently face abuse, ill-treatment, exploitation and extortion by smuggling gangs. An increasing number are in poor physical and emotional health – malnourished and unable to walk. “UNHCR is advocating for the prompt release from detention of any detained Rohingya and others of concern,” said Mr. Edwards. “We also believe that improved access to health and other support services, including lawful employment opportunities, will allow refugees to be self-reliant.”