Twenty-Eight People Detained for Illegal Entry to Burma Say They Are IDPs

By Moe Myint 6 March 2017

RANGOON – Border police patrol in Arakan State apprehended a vessel carrying 28 people in the Bay of Bengal on Sunday afternoon, who the authorities say had illegally entered Burmese territorial waters from St. Martin’s Island in Bangladesh, said official Kyaw Aye Hlaing of Maungdaw police station.

The distance between Sittwe, the Arakan State capital, and St. Martin Island is at least 70 kilometers.

Those arrested said that they were originally from Thae Chaung and Baw Du Ba internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps, located on the outskirts of Sittwe. They explained that some within the group had crossed into Bangladesh by boat for medical treatment, and others had been working there for almost four months.

According to police official Kyaw Aye Hlaing, and a statement released by the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee, the 28 people are being detained.

Five of them are reportedly children, and are believed to be aged between 13 and 15 years old.

Police Major Kyaw Mya Win, the head of the police in Maungdaw Township—the authorities which have reportedly held the individuals—said, “We occasionally apprehend some people who have come back from Bangladesh.”

The IDPs, who are Muslims, need official permission to travel from the authorities, particularly Arakan State’s immigration department and also the camp management committee.

U Kyaw Hla Aung, a man who self-identifies as a member of the Muslim Rohingya community, and who currently lives in Sittwe, told The Irrawaddy over the phone that obtaining a travel permit from the authorities is extremely tough. Applicants first need to get permission from the village administrator and the police, and then go to the immigration department downtown. An address for and recommendation from the host must be presented.

The application process can take three months, and if permission is granted, it is for a stay only of up to 45 days. To overstay is to face charges—by the IDP or by the host, U Kyaw Hla Aung said.

“No one wants to get involved in this complicated issue,” he said, of why few advocates—even among the Muslim community in Rangoon—have tried to address the restrictions on freedom of movement for Arakan State’s Muslim IDPs.

The only option left, he explained—particularly for those seeking medical treatment—is to drift out to sea, with the hope of reaching Bangladesh, but risking being fired upon by the Burmese navy, or drowning.

“They could not afford the money for the permit. So they opt to begin a voyage at sea, although they know it’s illegal,” U Kyaw Hla Aung said.

Over the past three years, 16 people have been caught by the border patrol and charged under Burma’s 1947 Immigration Act 13(1). They were imprisoned for one-and-a-half years—four were reportedly children, around 10 years old.

In April 2016, 18 IDPs were killed and 19 rescued after a boat capsized near Thae Chaung, where one IDP camp was located. It was coming from Pauktaw Township to purchase commodities in Sittwe. It was unclear if IDPs on the boat had received permission from the authorities to make the journey.