93 Rohingya Headed For Malaysia Being Held at Sea by Navy in Tanintharyi

By Moe Myint 27 November 2018

YANGON — Fishermen and police in Tanintharyi Region say the Myanmar Navy detained 93 Rohingya on Sunday night on a boat off the coast of Dawei on their way to Malaysia from the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe.

Ko Naing Lin told The Irrawaddy that he was among the first local fishermen to spot the boat and surround it before calling the navy, which is holding the boat and its passengers at sea.

“Because they can’t speak Burmese, two imams from Launglon City translated the testimonies of the people on the boat for the authorities,” he said.

Ko Naing Lin said the navy was keeping them at sea because it feared locals may attack them if they were brought to shore. He said the boat was tethered to a navy vessel and that government authorities were providing them with regular meals.

“Locals are frightened of them because we have heard about many incidents about northern Rakhine,” the fisherman said.

The on-duty officer of the Launglon Police Station, speaking on condition on anonymity because he was not a designated spokesperson, said locals had nothing to fear because such incidents have become common during the dry season over the past few years.

He said the boat was found 10 kilometers west of Auk Bok Island and identified the passengers as Bengali, the government’s term for Rohingya because it does not recognize them as an ethnic group and to imply that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The officer said they told authorities that they bought the boat from a fisherman in Sittwe by pooling 18 million kyats ($11,313), paying between 300,000 kyats and 500,000 kyats each.

He said the group left Sittwe, about 1,000 kilometers from Dawei, on Nov. 18 and that 32 of them were under 18. He said they were all from the Dar Paing camp for people displaced by the communal violence that tore through the area in 2012, which drove some 140,000 Rohingya out of their homes.

Sittwe’s Buddhist and Muslim communities remain strictly segregated. Rohingya cannot visit the local market or leave the state without permission from government authorities, putting strains on the community that have driven many to try to escape the camps for other countries, often by perilous boat journeys.

The on-duty officer said senior authorities were still deciding whether the Rohingya should be prosecuted for attempting to cross an international border illegally or sent back to Sittwe, though he suspected they were more likely to be sent back.

Last week, a second boat that left Sittwe on Nov. 18 carrying another 60 Rohingya from the Dar Paing camp was detained in Rakhine State not long after starting its journey.

The week before that, Yangon authorities brought ashore a boat carrying more than 100 Rohingya headed for Malaysia. The boat had been adrift for more than 20 days after its motor died, during which one woman died on board.