Myanmar’s junta navy has stopped 36 Rohingya as they boarded a boat in Rakhine state, planning to sail to Malaysia, locals told RFA.
The 28 men and eight women – including some children – were from three townships in a state where the Rohingya have been persecuted by the military for years.
A local, who didn’t want to be named for security reasons, said the group gathered at a port in Sittwe city on Tuesday night, from where they planned to sail past Pauktaw township en route to Malaysia.
”Most of them leave for Malaysia from there, but they gather only in Sittwe,” the local said.
“They were arrested when the boat set sail. It’s not known yet whether the children were arrested.”
A post on the junta-controlled Rakhine Daily Facebook page confirmed that a case against the Rohingya will be filed, but did not specify the charges.
The lawyer handling the cases for the arrested Rohingya, said they were likely to be charged under the Immigration Department’s Recent Provisions Act and sentenced to between two and five years in prison.
More than 740,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine State following a military crackdown on the ethnic minority Muslim group that started five years ago, and now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Of the more than 600,000 that remained, around 125,000 are living in displaced people’s camps in Rakhine.
Every year, hundreds abandon the camps in both countries and take to the sea in small, poorly-provisioned boats to try to reach other countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia.
In December, two boats carrying more than 240 Rohingya arrived in Indonesia’s Aceh province in as many days. As many as 20 died at sea when food and water supplies ran short, according to NGOs, who said they sailed across the Andaman Sea, fleeing crowded camps in Bangladesh.
According to data compiled by RFA, a total of 1,856 Rohingya from camps in Rakhine state and Bangladesh were arrested in various parts of Myanmar between Dec. 2021, and Feb. 2, 2023. Of those, 466 were sentenced to between two and five years in prison under the immigration law.
Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.