Twelve traffickers have been arrested in Yangon after the bodies of 13 Rohingya migrants were found dumped by the roadside on the edge of Myanmar’s commercial capital, the military regime said on Tuesday.
The 12 detainees helped transport a total of 255 Rohingya from Bangladesh refugee camps to Malaysia via Rakhine State in five separate cases of trafficking, said the regime.
They charged each migrant 700,000 kyats (around US$250), it added.
The bodies of 13 Rohingya men were found dumped by a roadside in Hlegu Township on the outskirts of Yangon on December 5. The regime said they were among 33 Rohingya brought to Yangon in the latest operation by the 12-member trafficking network. The victims reportedly suffocated to death.
Social media posts by Rohingya rights activists said the bodies also showed signs of beating. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify their comments.
There have been frequent arrests of Rohingya in Yangon, Mawlamyine and Karen State as they flee refugee camps in Bangladesh and Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where Rohingya have lived and faced persecution for generations.
Despite the risk of jail terms on immigration charges, Rohingya continue to flee Rakhine to work in Thailand and Malaysia, driven by poverty and institutionalized discrimination.
After Rakhine, they make a stopover in Yangon, helped along the way by a network of agents at transit points such as Myawaddy in Karen State and Kawthoung, Tanintharyi Region on Myanmar’s southern border with Thailand.
The regime has vowed legal action against traffickers and Rohingya people who illegally enter Myanmar. In November, 71 Rohingya people were arrested in Hlegu.
Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Germany-based Free Rohingya Coalition, said the arrests were part of a coverup to conceal regime officials’ involvement in the trafficking.
“Rohingya can’t move in Myanmar without official permission. It is impossible for a large number of Rohingya to end up near Yangon without officials’ knowledge. All officials involved must be investigated and face action. The arrest of 12 people is just a cover,” he said.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 after the Myanmar military launched a clearance operation following attacks on military and border guard outposts allegedly conducted by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.