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UN sounds alarm over Myanmar boat people

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship. -AFP

Fri, Feb 22, 2013
AFP

GENEVA - The UN's refugee agency on Friday raised the alarm over the rising number of boat people perishing in the Indian Ocean, including Rohingya Muslims fleeing communal strife in Myanmar.

"It is clear that for people fleeing violence and conflict in their homelands, this has become one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world," said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

In 2012, some 13,000 people took to smugglers' boats in the Bay of Bengal, of whom 500 died at sea when the vessels broke down or capsized, said Mahecic. "Already in 2013, several thousand people are believed to have boarded smugglers boats in the Bay of Bengal," he added.

Among the most recent incidents, around 90 people are believed to have died of dehydration and starvation during a two-month journey, he said.

Around 30 survivors were rescued last weekend by Sri Lanka's navy off that country's coast.

"The repeated tragedies at sea demonstrate the need for a coordinated regional response to distress and rescue at sea," said Mahecic.

Described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world, Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighbouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Buddhist-Muslim unrest has left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine since June 2012.

"We are advocating with the Myanmar government to urgently address the root causes of the outflow," said Mahecic.

After decades in power, Myanmar's military junta has taken steps on the road to democracy.

"There are changes in Myanmar that are happening, and we believe that as part of these changes, this issue will be addressed," said Mahecic.

 

 
 
 
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