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Over 80 Rohingyas, fleeing violence and persecution in Arakan state, were detained by Burmese authorities on Wednesday in a coastal town near the Thai border, after traffickers abandoned them en route to Malaysia.
The Rohingyas, including 13 children and eight women, were taken for questioning by police when the boat was discovered at the dock in Tenasserim Division’s Kawthaung town in the southernmost tip of Burma.
A local politician from the Democratic Party-Myanmar, Than Htun, who met with the boat people told DVB they believed they had arrived in Malaysia.
“The [Rohingyas] paid [human traffickers] around 150,000-300,000 Kyat (USD$175-350) each to take them to Malaysia. They said the boat owner told them they had already arrived in Malaysia and they believed him,” said Than Htun.
The group is now being kept in a derelict hospital building in town, before being returned to Arakan state’s capital Sittwe. Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship by the Burmese government and are considered one of the world’s most persecuted minorities by the UN.
Thousands of Rohingyas have fled Arakan state in western Burma in the wake of sectarian clashes with Arakanese Buddhists last year, which killed over 180 people and displaced 110,000 since June.
“More than 10,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine State have left on these boats since October last year according to our findings,” Chris Lewa, campaigner for the Arakan Project told Alertnet on Thursday, adding that more and more women and children are now making the perilous journey along with men.
Many head for neighbouring Bangladesh, and increasingly to Malaysia, but often end up in Thailand by accident.
This week, 73 Rohingyas, including women and children as young as three, travelling to Malaysia were detained by Thai authorities when their boat washed ashore in Phuket. They were deported back to Burma yesterday, despite severe condemnation by international human rights groups. DVB understands that the group had still not arrived back in Burma as of Thursday evening.
According to the New York based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, many deported Rohingyas fall prey to human traffickers on their return, who demand extortionate fees for another attempt to be transported to Malaysia.
According to Than Htun, the Burmese Navy discovered another boat with Rohingyas in the Andaman Sea around mid-November, but pushed it back into Thai waters. The Thai authorities are also known to push boatloads of unwanted Rohingya refugees back into the sea.
Thailand, which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, insists it cannot accept Rohingyas leaving Burma, but will help them resettle in third countries.