'No Rohingya in Myanmar,' anti-human trafficking meeting told

Comments at a Thai meeting illustrated the limbo Rohingya Muslims find themselves in as they seek to improve their livelihoods.

'No Rohingya in Myanmar,' anti-human trafficking meeting told

World Bulletin / News Desk

Muslim Rohingya living in camps in western Myanmar are being forced into the hands of traffickers as Myanmar authorities continue to refuse their right to citizenship, which would open the floor to discussion on their future in bilateral cooperation programs on trafficking with neighboring Thailand.

"There are no Rohingya in Myanmar, but we do have a minority group coming from a neighboring country," Myanmar General Win Naing Tun told media this week.

The head of the anti-human trafficking division with the Myanmar police was speaking at a bilateral meeting on the island of Phuket, in southern Thailand, between Thai and Myanmar police forces to fight human trafficking.

Most Rohingya have been living in Rakhine state, in western Myanmar, for generations, although a small group have recently migrated from neighboring country Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government refuses to grant them citizenship, saying they are all illegal immigrants. Tension between Rohingya and local Buddhists, known as Arakanese, has always been high, but boiled over in 2012 when several large clashes provoked the death of around 200 people and left 140,000 homeless.

Since then, Rohingya have be confined to grim camps in Rakhine state. Many of them pay large amounts of money to traffickers to flee the country on cramped boats in hopes of finding work in Thailand, Malaysia or Australia. Many of those who arrive in southern Thailand become prey to others human traffickers and corrupt local officials.

When pushed further on the Rohingya issue by reporters, General Win Naing Tun insisted they were not of any concern to his government and warned that "it was a sensitive issue which could affect the relations between the two countries."

His Thai counterpart, General Pansak Kasemsant - assistant-commissioner general of the Thai police - expressed awareness from the Thai side that the Rohingya issue could not be discussed at the forum despite recognition that there was a problem to be taken care of.

"We are supposed to return the refugees to their home countries, but with Rohingya we cannot do that [because Myanmar refuses to recognize Myanmar as their home country], so we have to relocate them in displacement shelters," he told local newspaper Phuket Gazette.

Thousands of Rohingya are kept in camps in southern Thailand, with the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Office of Migrations, waiting for a third country to accept them.

In June, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level in the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report - alongside countries such as Syria and Gambia.

Since then, the Thai junta - which seized power on May 22 - has been trying to regulate migrant workers through the establishment of 43 registration centers throughout the Kingdom, asking all "illegals" to return to their home countries and go through a "national verification process" before coming back to Thailand where they can be registered as "legal" migrant workers. Because figures such as General Win Naing Tun refuse to recognize Myanmar as their home country, Rohingya are left in limbo in Thai camps.

A document issued by the Myanmar embassy in Thailand and obtained by the Anadolu Agency stipulates that migrant workers will have to show "Myanmar ID and household registration" to pass the verification process.

Myanmar ID cards are refused to Rohingya living in Myanmar, leaving Rohingya at the mercy of human trafficking networks and corrupt local officials as they seek a way out of their camps.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ağustos 2014, 11:01
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