SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)
Myanmar security forces are benefiting financially through complicity with criminal gangs from the trafficking of the persecuted Rohingya ethnic minority, according to a human rights organization.
“Not only are the authorities making life so intolerable for Rohingya that they are forced to flee, but they are also profiting from the exodus,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Bangkok-based Fortify Rights, said in a report released Friday.
“This is a regional crisis that is worsening while Myanmar authorities are treating it like a perverse payday,” he added.
Fortify Rights prepared the report after interviewing more than 90 Rohingya men and women between September 2013 and October 2014 in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
The research showed Myanmar police, navy and army officers were all making money on the backs of Rohingya boarding boats through local brokers to flee to Malaysia – with the charged sum typically ranging from $500 to $600 per shipload of asylum seekers in exchange for passage out to sea.
Police officers were also allegedly forcing Rohingya to individually pay $15 dollars in order to leave the shore.
In one case documented by Fortify Rights, the Myanmar navy asked for $7,000 from a criminal gang operating a ship filled with Rohingya headed to Malaysia.
Once payments are submitted, the navy escorts the boats until they reach international waters.
Since mid-October, the exodus of Rohingya from western Myanmar has increased, with as many as 900 people leaving Rakhine State per day.
Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project non-governmental organization, recently told the Anadolu Agency the upsurge was partly due to a wave of arrests of Rohingya religious and community leaders – some of whom had died under torture.
Adding to the Rohingya’s despair is a registration process initiated by Myanmar’s government this year aiming at “verifying” their ethnicity, a process that pushes them to renounce their identity as Rohingya and to accept being classified as “Bengali” against the granting of a “lower class of citizenship,” according to Fortify Rights.
Violence erupted between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine in June 2012 in western Myanmar, leaving 200 people dead and 140,000 homeless.
Since then, an estimated 100,000 Rohingya have paid large amounts of money to smugglers to flee on cramped boats, in the hope of finding work in Thailand, Malaysia or Australia.
In southern Thailand, some fall prey to human traffickers and corrupt local officials.
There are an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya living in Myanmar, most of them for several generations.
Since a citizenship law was enacted in 1982, the government has refused to grant them citizenship, claiming they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.