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Update: Stateless Rohingya Living in Prison-like Camps

The UN's Special Rapporteur for Human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, visited this camp for displaced Rohingyas in Myebon in Rakhine State. (PHOTO: UNIC)

The UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, visited this camp for displaced Rohingyas in Myebon in Rakhine State. (PHOTO: UNIC)

As a recent TIME article by Jason Motlagh highlights, more and more stateless Rohingya are fleeing persecution in Burma through perilous boat journeys,

A large chunk of Abdul Rahman’s home is gone, and so is his oldest son, Shakur. The ethnic Rohingya farmer tore down nearly half his home for scrap needed to secure his son’s passage on a boat bound for Malaysia. In the wake of bloody sectarian violence last year that left hundreds dead and forced tens of thousands of minority Muslim Rohingya into camps outside the coastal city of Sittwe, Rahman, 52, insists his people are being “strangled” by a Burmese government that does not want them. While foreign donors have supplied basic food rations, checkpoints manned by armed guards prevent the displaced from returning to the paddies and markets their livelihoods depend on. “Even animals can move more freely,” says Rahman.

These days, more and more Rohingya are betting what little they still have on a dangerous journey at sea. Community leaders and boatmen involved in the exodus say the volume of passengers is unprecedented because of enduring tensions and a total lack of mobility inside Burma, also known as Myanmar, where the Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and neglect. The growing sense of despair is borne out by the roughly 1,800 refugees who washed up in Thailand in January. And they keep arriving, on overloaded boats without navigational equipment, despite a voyage that can take up to two weeks. If they’re lucky: of the 13,000 mostly Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar and Bangladesh last year, the U.N. says at least 485 were known to have drowned.

It is clear that many are fleeing not only violence and persecution but also prison-like conditions in “camps” that the Myanmar government has set up for internally displaced Rohingya,

Speaking at a press conference at Yangon International Airport before leaving the country on Saturday, Quintana said nearly 120,000 people are now living in camps in Rakhine State with a lack of adequate healthcare, and noted that conditions were worse in camps sheltering Rohingyas and other Muslims.

The UN official said harassment of medical staff by Buddhist extremists in Rakhine State was one of the reasons behind the poor healthcare.

The government needs to address the problem of freedom of movement in the camps, Quintana stated, adding that one of the camps “felt more like a prison than a camp.”

Disturbing reports also allege that the extent of violence against Rohingya includes torture and sexual exploitation of minors,

New data obtained by DVB shows that torture and violence, including the sexual exploitation of minors, is widespread throughout prisons in Burma’s northern Arakan state – also known as Rakhine – where at least 966 Rohingya have been detained since November last year. At least 10 women and 72 children, aged between 10 and 15 years old, are understood to be among the prisoners. Sixty-two deaths were recorded in Buthidaung jail alone, where prisoners also reported being forced to shower naked in public and were routinely subjected to torture and sexual humiliation.

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