Muslim IDPs in Arakan State Seek Safer Boating Option

By Moe Myint 29 April 2016

RANGOON — Muslims sheltering at the Sin Tet Maw camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State are asking the state’s chief minister to allow them to use a suitable jetty in the capital Sittwe instead of the more hazardous route currently taken by boats, one of which sank earlier this month, killing more than 20 people.

Kyaw Hla Chay, who is head of the Sin Tet Maw camp in Pauktaw Township, sent a request letter to Chief Minister Nyi Pu on Wednesday, via authorities responsible for the Thae Chaung IDP camp outside of Sittwe. The camp leader wants permission to use a jetty so that IDPs can more safely make short trips to the state capital to purchase commodities, or alternatively receive emergency medical treatment at hospital if need be.

Explaining the reason for the appeal, he said the current point of disembarkation for the Sin Tet Maw to Sittwe journey by boat was a shoreline near the Thae Chaung IDP, and that the route was dangerous for boats. Vessels would be especially imperilled during the coming rainy season, when choppy seas increase the risk of boats capsizing.

On April 19, 23 people died when their boat sunk near the Thae Chaung camp. Its passengers had boarded the vessel from the Sin Tet Maw IDP camp, about 20 miles to the northeast.

“As you know, weeks ago a boat capsized and many people died,” Kyaw Hla Chay told The Irrawaddy. “If we use that fishing port in the rainy season, there are going to be troubles.”

Kyaw Hla Chay is an ethnic Kaman Muslim, one of 135 ethnicities officially recognized as eligible for Burmese citizenship. The large majority in the camp he heads are Rohingya Muslims, however, a stateless minority that bore the brunt of violence between Buddhists and Muslims that tore through Arakan State in 2012 and drove more than 100,000 people into IDP camps like Sin Tet Maw.

All camp residents’ movements are restricted, but the Rohingya’s stateless status could weigh on prospects for their request for jetty access being approved, given the history of discrimination that the group has faced since the 2012 unrest.

While that discrimination took place under the previous military-backed government, the new National League for Democracy (NLD) administration has given little indication of how it intends to handle the issue of Rohingya IDPs, and security authorities that have a say in their movement remain under military control.

Kyan Chay, also an ethnic Kaman who lives in the Thae Chaung IDP camp, said they had not yet received a response from local authorities.

Both Kyaw Hla Chay and Kyan Chay said they were originally from Kyaukphyu Township, where they were forced to flee in 2012. Kyaw Hla Chay acknowledged that not many ethnic Kaman people remained in the camp, with some having moved to Rangoon and others leaving the country for Malaysia. He put the total Kaman population still residing in the camp at around 100, and estimated its total population to be 2,000, with Rohingya presumably making up the remainder.

The Kaman National Progressive Party’s (KNPP) vice chairman, Hla Toe, said he did not know how many Kaman were left in the IDP camp, but estimated that the total did not exceed 100.