Myanmar’s navy detained a boat at the weekend carrying dozens of Rohingya in waters off the country’s southern tip, and authorities are trying to determine their origin, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
The vessel was discovered on Sunday 150 nautical miles in the Andaman Sea west of Kawthaung town in the southern Thanintharyi region and among the Rohingya aboard are people believed to have run away from refugee camps in Bangladesh, said Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesman, told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
“A navy ship patrolling in Kawthaung area spotted a peculiar vessel on its radar and went to the area to examine. It was around 8 a.m. and around 155 or 160 miles west of Kawthaung town,” he told RFA, an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.
“We have learned from the initial interrogations that they arrived at the location south of St. Martin Island in Bangladesh around 10 p.m. on Dec. 2. A Bangladeshi middleman transported these people on small boats on Dec. 4, 6 and 10,” the general said.
Reuters news agency quoted an assistant director from the Kawthaung township administration office as saying it remains unclear whether the 82 men, 69 women, three young boys and 19 young girls are from Rakhine State or refugee camps in Bangladesh. Seven crewmen, including the boat’s captain, were also detained.
Politicians and activists urged the government to provide humane treatment to the passengers, who were picked up just days after Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar before the U.N.’s top court in the Netherlands on genocide charges for the army’s brutal expulsion of 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
“If these people are actually from Rakhine State, charging them under immigration laws and giving them prison sentences are not acceptable and are a violation of their rights of free movement,” said activist Nickey Diamond from the NGO Fortify Rights.
Diamond told RFA that boat people and other Rohingya refugees flee hardship without identification papers, while many can document that they come from Rakhine and are not illegal “Bengali” immigrants from Bangladesh.
“All of these people are collectively framed as Bengalis entering into the country illegally and given prison sentences. These kinds of acts have become the evidence of persecution of the Rohingya population in lawsuits at international courts like the International Court of Justice case,” he said, referring to the court in The Hague where Suu Kyi appeared last week.
“Even the people who live in Rakhine State are being treated badly. These people with unknown origin are far more vulnerable,” said Aye Lwin, a community leader working toward interfaith unity in the predominantly Buddhist country.
“Their place of origin should be investigated. Afterwards, the authorities should view them from a humanitarian perspective. We know that there are laws, but aside from acting in line with the laws, the authorities should also act humanely,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Thar Aye, a Yangon-based Rohingya politician, said the authorities should take actions against the human traffickers who arranged the trip, while the people on the boat should be rescued.
“It is possible that these traffickers have lured the people from the camp and charged them for arranging these trips,” he said.
“Some people know nothing about the laws and have fallen into the hands of traffickers. These kinds of innocent people should be rescued and only the traffickers should be charged,” Thar Aye said.
Reported by RFA, an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.