Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rohingyas claim Myanmar troop abuse

The migrants say they were burned when the Myanmar army tried to set light to their boat

Al Jazeera has uncovered fresh evidence from Thailand's southwestern coast of another instance of abuse of Muslim Rohingya boat people.

A recently arrived group of refugees say their boat was boarded by soldiers from Myanmar, who beat them and tried to set light to their vessel.

Al Jazeera's Selina Downes said that 78 Rohingya migrants were found on a boat near Surin island, located near Thailand's Andaman coast.

They took to the seas in search of work to support their families.

"This group, we are told, have all come from Arakan state in western Myanmar. What they got, they say, was more brutality by one of the harshest military regimes in the world," Downes said.

"One man told us the Burmese Border Security Patrol twice intercepted their boat as it headed south towards Thailand. They say dozens of officers boarded the boat and severely beat them. Many of the men appear to have severe burns to their skin."

Defenceless minority

The incident appears to be just another case of the abuses and atrocities committed against a people who are essentially defenceless and stateless.

Myanmar refuses to recognise the Muslim Rohingya minority as a distinct ethnic group.

Human-rights activists say they have been abused and exploited, forcing many to flee abroad, mainly across the border to Bangladesh.

Thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis leave the country aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work, with many travelling to Thailand by sea and then overland to Malaysia.

The Rohingya migrants told Al Jazeera that they each paid a few hundred dollars for the boat journey they thought would take them to a better life.

But by the time the Thai navy found them, they were floundering at sea, trying to keep their boat afloat.

But this time, the Thai authorities did not dump them at sea, but brought them to the mainland to be treated by medical staff.

Thai 'assistance'

The Thai military too have been accused of human-rights abuses against the Rohingya.

A Thai naval officer confirmed on Monday claims that Rohingya boat people from Myanmar, detained along Thailand's southwestern coast, were taken back out to sea and set adrift.

The ethnic Rohingyas are a stateless group denied citizenship by Myanmar [Reuters]

The naval officer, who declined to be identified, told Al Jazeera: "We have to take the engines off the boats or they will come back.

"The wind will carry them to India or somewhere."

Humanitarian groups have accused Thailand of systematically abusing Rohingya migrants.

The allegations surfaced after accounts emerged of a group of Rohingyas who were beaten and then towed back out to sea by Thai soldiers.

Reports from survivors who washed up on India's Andaman islands and northwest Indonesia suggested as many as 550 of the 992 towed out to sea by Thai soldiers later died.

The Thai authorities who rescued the latest group of Rohingya migrants, told Al Jazeera that once these men are processed by immigration, they too will be pushed back out of Thailand by land or, more likely, by sea.

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