Bangkok, Oct 2 (IANS) The total number of refugees has increased in Southeast Asia over the last year and a half, the United Nations refugee agency said in a report released on Wednesday.
Most of the refugees are Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Myanmar, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Between January 2018 and June 2019, 17,907 Rohingya, 55 per cent of whom were children, fled from Myanmar to the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh, according to Efe news.
“Rohingya suffer serious limitations on their basic human rights in their country of origin, depriving them of opportunities to lead decent lives and dimming their hopes for a secure future,” the report said.
In total, some 906,500 Rohingya live in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh. Around 741,947 of them arrived following the military operation against the ethnic minority group launched in August 2017 by the Myanmarese army in northern Arakan state in the western part of the country.
The military operation ostensibly came in response to coordinated attacks on several police posts in the area by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army guerrillas, and according to a UN inquiry commission was carried out with ‘genocidal intent’.
The UNHCR also underlined a surge in the number of refugees and migrants taking the help of human traffickers to escape from Myanmar and southeastern Bangladesh by crossing the Bay of Bengal and reach countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, a journey undertaken by 1,597 people between January 2018 and June 2019.
This figure represents an increase from previous years, but it is 50 times lower than the number of Rohingya and Bangladeshis who crossed the Bay between early 2013 and May 2015, when the Thai and Malaysian authorities disrupted human trafficking networks.
The journeys undertaken by refugees when they sail out to sea or cross the Naf river, which separates Myanmar and Bangladesh, are extremely dangerous. According to UNHCR, at least 15 refugees have died or disappeared there during the period covered in the report.