Sixteen young men, presumed to be Bengalis, who were were arrested in Kalay, Sagaing Division, for illegal entry into Burma, could face up to seven years in prison, said local police.
The men, all thought to be under 25 years of age, were arrested separately in the Mautlin area of Kalay. They are suspected of entering Sagaing Division via Chin State, and could have set off on their journey from either India or Bangladesh.
“We did not find any ID or documents on them,” said a police officer in Kalay. “They do not speak Burmese, so we had to communicate with them through a Bengali interpreter. They are currently being questioned by immigration officers to ascertain where they come from, and where they were headed to.”
As speakers of Bengali, the 16 could come from Bangladesh or the Indian state of Bengal. It is highly likely, though, that they are Rohingya—the persecuted minority which is denied citizenship in Burma, Bangladesh and India—because so many Rohingyas have attempted to migrate overland in recent years.
The police officer who spoke to The Irrawaddy said that the immigration department will open a case against the 16 once they have been questioned, and that they could face charges for illegal entry into Burma that carry a two- to seven-year sentence.
“That is the 20th arrest of this kind during 2012,” said the officer. “About 100 [Bengalis] have been arrested and charged this year.”
In September, 10 Bengali men were arrested in the same region and were sentenced to seven years in prison for illegally entry. The guide, who was arrested along with them, was given a five-year sentence.
Many of the illegal immigrants caught previously in the area were Rohingyas entering Burma either through the Indo-Burmese or Bangladeshi-Burmese borders. Many of them said they were en route to the Thai border and would then continue travelling until they reached Malaysia where they could find work.
Locals have said that Kalay has become a popular new route for Bengalis and Bangladeshi Rohingyas to enter the country because of the tight security situation in Burma’s Arakan State.
“They [the illegal immigrants] may think this is the safest way for them to go,” said a local in Kalay. “If the police can arrest this many of them, we can’t imagine how many are passing through unnoticed.”