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Five years after Myanmar exodus, Rohingya now fleeing Bangladesh

1 May 20230 comments

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees have reached Indonesia since November last year as they escape increasingly desperate conditions in camps in Bangladesh and continued repression in Myanmar.

Since November last year, Indonesia has registered 918 Rohingya who reached Aceh, its westernmost region, after making the journey south in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, according to the foreign ministry. This compares with 180 in the whole of 2021.

Most recently, Indonesian officials reported that more than 180 Rohingya refugees landed in Aceh province.

Thousands of people from the mostly Muslim ethnic group are risking their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, in an attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia or Indonesia.

The number of these perilous journeys – often in poor-quality boats – increases especially between November and April, when the seas are calm.

It has been five years since hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled the brutality of government security forces in Myanmar, mostly ending up in camps in Bangladesh.

Nearly 800,000 Rohingya fled their homeland in Myanmar in 2017 after a brutal military crackdown which saw thousands of killed, raped or have their properties torched as part of a scorched-earth campaign, described by the UN as having genocidal intent.

Tens of thousands had taken shelter in Bangladesh even before the 2017 crackdown.

And the Rohingya left in Myanmar suffer segregation and widespread discrimination as well as having their citizenship revoked. Rights groups say the measures amount to apartheid.

Ever more Rohingya refugees are taking to the sea to escape their cramped encampments in south-eastern Bangladesh.

Faced with worsening conditions there and the dwindling possibility of being repatriated to Myanmar, more than 3,500 Rohingya attempted often-perilous sea journeys in 2022, according to the United Nations — a fivefold increase from the year before, and the highest since 2017.

The Washington Post reports that the departures have created a potentially explosive security problem for Southeast Asia, which has thus far been comfortable letting Bangladesh shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for the Rohingya.

When refugee boats broke down last year in the middle of the Andaman Sea, neighbouring countries ignored their pleas for help. But the Rohingya are finding their way ashore.

Spokesman for NGO Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the Rohingya want to go home.

“But they want to return in dignity, with rights. They want their land back. They want to be protected,” Mr Robertson said.

“There has to be a recognition that these people are going to continue to come out until there’s a solution for the problems that exist in Myanmar and in Bangladesh.

“The situations for Rohingya, both in Myanmar, where they’re from, and the refugee camps in Bangladesh have considerably deteriorated in the past kind of couple of years.

“I’ve not heard people be so despondent and so hopeless, partly because of the length of time. You know, I think a lot of people didn’t think that they would be stuck in these camps for so long,” he said.