YANGON: Police in strife-ridden Rakhine State in western Myanmar have detained dozens of Rohingya Muslims who were seeking to get to Malaysia by boat, state media reported on Wednesday.
The 63 members of the stateless, persecuted minority in Myanmar — 29 men and 34 women — and four crew members were arrested near a beach in Maungtaw, Rakhine, on Tuesday, after their boat ran out of fuel in bad weather and drifted ashore, according to the report.
Thirty-four of the Muslims were from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in neighbouring Bangladesh, while the rest were from Rakhine. More than 740,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched a harsh crackdown in Rakhine in August 2017.
Two of the detained are alleged to have worked with the crew members as traffickers. The refugees had agreed to pay 1.7 million kyat (about $1,130) for passage to Malaysia by boat, the report said.
The crew was found to be in possession of a gun and bullets that had been provided by the boat’s owner for protection, the report added. The alleged owner of the boat has been arrested in Thailand with help from Thai police.
Many of the Rohingya Muslims who fled the military crackdown, launched in reprisal for attacks by an armed Rohingya faction against government security posts, have settled in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town near the border with Myanmar.
But squalid conditions and a dim future for children and others in Rakhine and at the crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar have led a number of them to seek a better life elsewhere by attempting dangerous journeys at sea.
They have also become easy prey for human traffickers who lure them to flee by boat, often to Malaysia, a prosperous Muslim-majority country to the south.
The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has never recognised Rohingya Muslims, most of whom have lived in the country for generations. Instead they are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh with no rights as citizens.