Is Rohingya a problem for migrants

Southeast Asia: Rohingya refugees on boats report

(Bangkok, May 27, 2015) - Rohingya and other survivors of dangerous boat crossings from Burma and Bangladesh said they were cruelly treated by unscrupulous people smugglers and human traffickers and abused and neglected on board the ships, Human Rights Watch said today. At a regional meeting on May 29, 2015 in Bangkok, solutions for the so-called exodus of the boat refugees must be found.

The Rohingya interviewed reported that they survived two months on boats. They were crammed together in a very small space below deck, with limited food and water supplies and under very poor sanitary conditions. There were about 100 women and men on each boat, most of them Rohingya. All passengers were left in an unfamiliar place on the Thai coast, where they were on their own until the Thai authorities discovered them. According to international organizations, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people are still on boats.

“The survivors said they fled persecution in Burma only to fall into the hands of human traffickers and blackmailers. Many of them have seen others die and survived abuse and starvation, ”said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Discussions with authorities and other actors show that brutal networks benefit from the desperation and suffering of one of the world's most persecuted and neglected groups - and that government officials in Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia are involved."

States in the region and other governments that are able to do so should redouble their search and rescue efforts and ensure that thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, asylum seekers and migrants, have full access to procedures that enable them to receive international protection and humanitarian assistance can get.

“Burma and Bangladesh must stop persecuting the Rohingya. Thailand and Malaysia must immediately close all camps holding boat refugees. This is the only way they can end the human rights violations and prevent further mass graves on their soil. "

Over the past few weeks, countless boats with Rohingya from Burma and Bangladesh have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. First, the three governments responded by pushing the ships back into the sea. For this, they have been condemned in their own countries and internationally, forcing them to rethink their practices. After continued pressure, the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Kuala Lumpur on May 21. Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to allow the ships to dock in the future, on condition that the international community provide humanitarian assistance and help them relocate or return all migrants to their home country within a year.

The living conditions of the Rohingya in Burma are extremely poor. They cite the reasons for fleeing that they have little access to education and the labor market and enjoy neither freedom of travel nor freedom of religion. Some voluntarily flee from this extremely difficult environment. Others are tempted or forced to embark on the sea voyage by smugglers without knowing what risks they entail. Some smugglers pass their victims on to human traffickers.

A 13-year-old girl said that she was grabbed by men in front of her family: “They dragged me to the boat, they had sticks and they threatened to hit me. I screamed and cried loudly. My parents cried too, but there was nothing they could do. "

A 16 year old girl reported:

It was a group of six men, they were Arakanese Buddhists from Bangladesh and had knives and pistols. They forced me to board a boat. They said I was leaving Myanmar [Burma]. They pushed me to the small boat and I fell into the water that came up to my shoulders. Fifteen other Rohingya were on the boat. None of them was there voluntarily.

A third young woman described that she and her husband and child were abducted by human traffickers: “My husband and I were on the way to my father-in-law when a middleman and many other men abducted us. They forced us to board a larger ship. I couldn't understand the language [of the traffickers] there, I don't speak Burmese or Arakanese. I don't know who they were. "

All of the survivors reported terrible conditions on board. A young Rohingya said:

We spent two months on board, and the whole time more and more people came from smaller boats. We [the women] were below deck, in a very small room. I couldn't see outside, just feel the boat move up and down. Many people were vomiting all the time, feeling sick and uncomfortable all the time.

Another woman reported: “When I got on the big ship ... I cannot describe my feelings, I was so scared. We were 16 people in a small room. The door was always locked. The tugs pushed food and water through a small crack, we never saw them. "

The abuse continues on land. On May 25, Malaysian government spokesmen announced that they had found 139 similar graves in 28 camps on the Malaysian side of the border. Mass graves had already been discovered in Thailand earlier in May. Thailand and Malaysia urgently need to close all remaining camps and offer help and protection to the survivors.

Rohingya and Bangladeshi survivors reported being held and blackmailed in camps in Thailand and Malaysia. Those who couldn't pay the ransom were beaten and mistreated. A Rohingya woman detained in one of these camps on the Thai side of the border said that the blackmailers seriously injured her to force her relatives to pay: “The middlemen hit me with sticks and bamboo sticks and burned my legs and ankles with cigarettes because I couldn't raise the amount. "

The current crisis was fueled by the discovery of mass graves in which Rohingya and Bangladeshis are believed to have been buried. The Thai government pretended not to be aware of the fact that Rohingya and others are frequently being dragged off to Thai camps on their way to Malaysia. On May 1, Thailand began large-scale raids there.

Regional officials are indifferent and coldly commented on the human rights violations against the Rohingya. The political leadership in Burma denies the existence of the Rohingya and describes them as "illegal Bengali". Burmese officials initially denied that the people on the boats came from Burma. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, called the migrant workers from her country "insane" and vowed to punish anyone who leaves illegally. The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot found the boat refugees "reckless" and answered the question of whether Australia was considering accepting Rohingya refugees with "no, no, no".

In the run-up to the regional meeting on "Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean", which was scheduled by the Thai government on May 29 in Bangkok, the political leadership of Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia should defend the rights of the Rohingya and Bangladeshis to the Recognize and respect boats. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international organizations should have access to the survivors of the boat escape in order to assess their vulnerability based on international standards and to determine who fled persecution, who fell victim to human trafficking, and who for economic reasons has emigrated. Burma and Bangladesh should hold accountable all those who have committed human rights abuses against Rohingya and others by forcing them or deliberately deceiving them into boarding boats, on which the living conditions are horrific.

“Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia must agree never to turn back people who are stuck at sea. They should undertake to find all boats still at sea, bring the people on board to safe havens and ensure that their rights are protected, ”said Adams. “It is just as important that there will be no long-term solution before Burma's government ends its human rights and discriminatory policies against the Rohingya. She must also take part in the fight against people smugglers and human traffickers who abuse and abuse the Rohingya. "

Background information on human rights violations against the Rohingya people in Burma and testimony from survivors can be found below.

Statements from surviving Rohingya

I've lived in my village all my life. I've never been outside. I never went to school. I can only read the Koran. There is curfew at 4 p.m., after which we are no longer allowed to leave the house. Burmese police officers often come to the village and steal whatever they want. The Arakanese men came into my house, there were about twelve. They yelled at me: “Your brother is in Malaysia, you have to go!” They dragged me to the boat, they had sticks and threatened to hit me. I screamed and cried loudly. My parents cried too, but there was nothing they could do. I went on board with three men. When I got on the big ship ... I can't describe my feelings, I was so scared. The boat was about 15 meters long. It had four levels below deck, each about three feet high, with separate rooms, women on one side, men on the other, only men on the upper deck. We were 16 people in a small room. The door was always locked. The smugglers pushed food and water through a small crack, we never saw them. We were only allowed to use the toilet once a day. There were a lot of people on deck, but I don't know who the tugs were.

- Yasmine, a 13-year-old girl from Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State

My family was in trouble with the government, my brother was a teacher, they threatened him, closed the mosque, and he had to go to Malaysia. Burmese soldiers arrested and beat my father, and after he was released, my family was warned that if we stayed, we would die. The government took our house away from us and gave it to Arakanese Buddhists from Bangladesh [who fled there in 2013]. It was a group of six men, they were Arakanese Buddhists from Bangladesh, they had knives and pistols. They forced me to board a boat, they said that I was leaving Myanmar. They pushed me to the small boat and I fell into the water that came up to my shoulders. Fifteen other Rohingya were on the boat. None of them was there voluntarily. We had to go through the water. It took the small boat about six hours to get to the big one. There were 95 people there. I spent two months on board. I wasn't sure, just thought that I was being brought to Malaysia. I was sick, vomited a lot, lived on board like a dead person. I don't know what to do in Malaysia, I have no money. I'm homesick for Myanmar, but I know I can't go back.
- Arefa, a 16-year-old from Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State

My husband and I were on my way to see my father-in-law when a middleman and many other men abducted us. They forced us to board a larger ship. I couldn't understand the language [of the traffickers] there, I don't speak Burmese or Arakanese. I don't know who they were. I spent two months on the boat. I was below, my husband above. One day my husband came down to me, bleeding from his head, shoulder and arm. The smugglers messed him up so he didn't know why. I didn't see him again until we were abandoned on the island. The Thai Navy came and took us to different places. The last time I saw him, he was still in pain.
- Sameera, a 16-year-old from Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State

My brother in Malaysia contacted a middleman who advised me to go to Malaysia, he said it was safer to work there. I've heard on the news that many people die along the way, but I can no longer stay in my home country. I cannot marry anyone in my village because we are poor and we cannot afford to pay the [Burmese] officials for the permit, it costs around 600,000 kyat [€ 600]. I never went to school because it was too expensive to register. The middleman took me and six others to the coast by ship at night [through the rivers]. We boarded a larger boat, there were 95 people in total. We spent two months on board, and the whole time more and more people were coming from smaller ships. We [the women] were below deck, in a very small room. I couldn't see outside, just feel the boat move up and down. Many people were vomiting all the time, feeling sick and uncomfortable all the time. I wore the same clothes all the time, I couldn't wash. The crossing to Thailand took ten days. We were brought to the island in small boats at night, which lasted about an hour, during which we had to hide. When I got to the island I thought I was going to die. There was no food and no water. We stayed there for two days. Then the Thai Navy came, gave us food and drink, took photos and took us to Thailand. I just want my brother and parents to know that I am here. I can't go home, Myanmar [Burma] is not my country.

- Hafsa, a 14-year-old from Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State

The smugglers came to our village and offered us to go to Malaysia for free to meet our husbands or the men to whom we had been promised. Most of the men fled to Malaysia after the violence in 2012. The tugs said it was free but when we got on board they asked for money and we didn't have any. They locked us below deck, we couldn't see anything. People were on the boat for different lengths of time, some two months, some eight days. But as soon as you enter it you stay there, you cannot move.

- Raziyaa, an 18-year-old from Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State

I don't know where my husband is. There was no work in my village so I decided to go to Malaysia and find my father. The middleman is a Rohingya, I didn't know him but thought I should go. He wanted my two months' salary for the trip [to Malaysia]. There were 250 people on board, mostly men. The crossing to Thailand took two months. We thought we were going to die because there was less and less food and water, we only got rice and salt and a glass of water a day. [End of 2014] we arrived in Satun. I spent two nights in the jungle camp in Satun, there were about 200 people. I heard that there are 74 such camps. After two nights, I was taken to Malaysia in a van with 20 other women. It was so hot and tight and the driver was driving too fast. The police stopped us and arrested us all.

- Minara, an 18-year-old from Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State

I lived in a camp for internally displaced persons, it was difficult. I was tricked and boarded a boat because I was promised work. I didn't want to go to Malaysia. There were about 370 people in the camp, mostly Rohingya and about 50 Bangladeshis. With a small one I was taken to a larger boat, there were Burmese smugglers from Kawthaung [southern Burma]. From this boat we were taken to a camp near Padang Besar [on the Thai-Malaysian border]. I tried to escape from the jungle camp, but I met a Thai who brought me back. The people [Thai civilians] who live near the camp know that they will get 5,000 baht [150 €] if they bring Rohingya back to the camp. The middlemen beat me with sticks and bamboo sticks and burned my legs and ankles with cigarettes because I couldn't raise the amount I was supposed to pay to go to Malaysia. I was there for a month. When I escaped for the second time, Thai workers found me on a rubber plantation and turned me over to the [Thai] police.I was in prison for five months and now I can't go back to Sittwe, but I want to go there and get my children.

- Khalida, a 25-year-old woman from an internally displaced person's camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State

Longstanding human rights violations against the Rohingya in Burma

The number of boat refugees leaving Western Burma and Bangladesh is increasing dramatically. This development is due to the fact that the stateless minority of the Muslim Rohingya has been oppressed for decades and is practically without rights. In 1978 the Burmese army drove more than 250,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh in a military operation, the government of which forced many of them to return shortly afterwards.

The Rohingya are denied their civil rights because the discriminatory 1982 citizenship law makes it almost impossible for them to prove their right to citizenship. In 1991, Burmese security forces forcibly evicted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh. In 1995, Bangladesh deported many Rohingya to Burma. Since then, the majority of them have lived in the communities of Buthidaung and Maungdaw near the border under restrictive conditions. Their freedom of movement is severely restricted, as is their ability to find work and access to basic social services and freedom of religion. The Burmese government rejects the name "Rohingya" and describes them as "illegal Bengali".

In Bangladesh, around 30,000 Rohingya recognized as refugees live in UNHCR refugee camps, who arrived there before 1993. Since then, Rohingya have no longer had the opportunity to apply for asylum in Bangladesh, although they are potentially entitled to international protection. For this reason, an estimated 30,000 more people without refugee status are living in makeshift accommodation in the vicinity of these camps near Teknaf in Cox’s Bazaarm. Another 250,000 to 300,000 Rohingya live in this area without a residence permit. Those living outside the UNHCR camps often experience ill-treatment and discrimination by local officials and civilians.

Since 2005, small boats with Rohingya and migrant workers from Bangladesh have been leaving the southern coast of Bangladesh. Most of them bring men to Malaysia who live there as migrant workers. These small ships often dock in Thailand and use a network of smuggling routes from there to Malaysia. The number of incoming ships gradually increased until the Thai authorities took countermeasures. In 2009, Thai security forces towed several ships far out to sea, causing massive international outcry and critical media reports. As a result, the Thai government changed its course towards a so-called "aid policy": officials were ordered to provide humanitarian aid to boats in Thai territorial waters, to prevent them from docking in Thailand and to send them south to Malaysia.

However, in the course of time this policy became more and more corrupt. The boats were increasingly sent into the hands of gangs who held the people on board in jungle camps and blackmailed them before they were allowed to travel on to Malaysia. The exodus now includes tens of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, some of whom are fleeing violence and discrimination, others are looking for work. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates in a recent report that 25,000 people left Burma and Bangladesh by boat in the first three months of 2015. An estimated 300 people died of hunger, thirst or the blows of the tug crews or as a result of disputes on board the ships.

Ethnically motivated conflicts between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya as well as other Muslims broke out for the first time in June 2012. A second wave of violence in October 2012 resulted in government-sponsored crimes against humanity. In the course of ethnic cleansing, all Rohingya should be expelled from the urban areas in Rakhine State. At least 167 people died and numerous buildings were destroyed. To date, more than 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya and Arakanese are living in camps across Rakhine State. Many Rohingya receive only rudimentary, inadequate support as state restrictions exist and international humanitarian workers are intimidated by Arakanese ultra-nationalists.

The Burmese government, with support from the United Nations Population Fund, conducted a census in March and April 2014 that did not record anyone who identified themselves as Rohingya. Preliminary estimates released in August said 1.09 million people were not counted. In response to the long-term displacement, the government developed a draft Rakhine Action Plan, which was unveiled by the media in September. This plan contained discriminatory regulations which, if implemented, would establish the long-term segregation of the displaced Rohingya and their statelessness as a national, political principle. Months after its announced release, the Rakhine Action Plan has still not been officially released, adding to concerns among affected communities.

In 2015, the Burmese government stripped the Rohingya of the right to hold temporary identification documents. These so-called white cards gave them the right to take part in the constitutional referendum in 2008 and in the national elections in 2010, but did not give them all citizenship rights. More than 400,000 Rohingya have given in their cards before the cut-off date on May 31, as the Burmese government had promised to issue them with a different identity document in the future, provided that they do not call themselves Rohingya but “Bengali”. In addition, the passage of four so-called race and religion laws, which many actors see as laws against the Muslim minority in general and the Rohingya in particular, is extremely worrying. They include the recently passed Population Control and Health Act, which can be used to limit Rohingya birth rates. These developments and the escalating violence against the Rohingya since 2012 are contributing massively to the current exodus.