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    UNHCR expresses concern over Rohingya exodus

    Last
    year, thousands of people risked boat journeys on the Bay of Bengal,
    including people fleeing violence in Myanmar, like these people. The
    photo is taken from UNHCR website.
    Star Online Report


    The
    UN refugee agency has expressed concern as Rohingyas are fleeing both
    Myanmar and Bangladesh in large numbers risking their lives on
    smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal following the recent violence
    in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

    Mounting
    frustration over lack of imminent solutions to the plight of
    Rohingyas is another reason for the exodus towards Southeast Asian
    countries, said a report of the UNHCR published on its website on
    January 11.




    Just
    one week into the New Year, UNHCR has had reports that more than
    2,000 people have left northern Rakhine state and Bangladesh on big
    boats run by smuggling rings, the report added.


    Their
    final destination however remains uncertain, although they are
    believed to be heading to other countries in Southeast Asia.

    These
    most recent reports add to what is already thought to be a record
    number of people who have reportedly made the dangerous journey in
    recent months.

    Last
    year, an estimated 13,000 people headed into the Bay of Bengal on
    smugglers’ boats.

    Among
    them are Muslims from Rakhine state, long-staying refugees in
    Bangladesh and Bangladeshis.

    Most
    appear to be men travelling alone, but there are believed to be
    increasing numbers of women and children – often an indicator of
    growing desperation and lack of prospects.

    At
    least 485 people are believed to have died or remain missing in four
    reported boat accidents in the Bay of Bengal last year. The real
    death toll could be much higher.

    There
    are unconfirmed reports in the media that smuggled passengers who
    make it to land are increasingly being detained by smugglers’
    networks on the Thailand-Malaysia border.

    The
    smugglers make their passengers call relatives in Bangladesh to
    demand money for the rest of the journey. If payment is not made, the
    passengers typically face being sold to trafficking networks as
    bonded labourers on fishing boats until they can pay off their debts.

    It
    is unclear how many actually make it to their final destinations,
    where they often risk arrest, detention and possible forced return to
    Myanmar.

    UNHCR
    continues to seek access to individuals arriving by boat who are
    arrested and detained by government authorities.

    “In
    Thailand, we have asked for access to newly-arrived people from
    Myanmar and are awaiting a response from the authorities.

    In
    Malaysia, UNHCR systematically requests and is typically granted
    access to individuals arriving by boat. Our office there is
    eventually able to secure their release from detention if they are
    deemed to be people of concern to UNHCR,” a spokesman for the
    refugee agency said.

    UNHCR
    fears that more people could take the dangerous sea voyage, driven by
    desperation after inter-communal violence broke out in Rakhine state
    in June and October last year. Some 1,15,000 people remain displaced
    within the state.

    In
    neighbouring Bangladesh, there is also a growing sense of
    hopelessness among the refugees who have fled from Myanmar since the
    early 1990s.

    Some
    30,000 refugees are hosted in two official camps while a larger
    number of Muslims from Rakhine are living in squalid makeshift sites
    and among the local communities.

    “This
    growing boatpeople crisis calls for regional approaches and
    solutions. UNHCR encourages the government of Myanmar to intensify
    measures to address some of the main push factors,” the
    spokesman said, adding that this included “the lack of
    sustainable development and the resulting widespread poverty, the
    lack of rights for an important part of the population and
    recognition of the economic interdependence of all communities in
    Rakhine state.”

    At
    the same time, UNHCR is urging countries in the region to maintain
    open borders and ensure humane treatment and access by UNHCR to
    people seeking asylum.

    UNHCR
    stands ready to support states in assisting people in need of
    international protection. UNHCR also appeals to sea captains to
    continue the long tradition of rescue at sea for boats that are in
    distress.

    In
    March, UNHCR will co-organise a regional roundtable on irregular
    maritime movements in the Asia-Pacific, bringing together
    governments, relevant organisations and other stakeholders to discuss
    practical regional approaches to the problem.

    It
    is hoped that the forum will serve as a launching pad for concrete
    actions by states in the region to enhance regional dialogue and
    improve responses to irregular maritime movements. 

    Source
    The Daily Star: