BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rohingya Muslims fleeing by boat to escape violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state have become “lucrative merchandise” for authorities and traffickers in Thailand, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, as a fresh bout of bloodletting in the volatile state prompted demands for an investigation.
The U.S. and U.N. have urged Myanmar to investigate reports that security forces and Buddhist mobs attacked Rohingya in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw township earlier this month. The government has denied there has been any mass killing.
The number of dead has not been confirmed, but advocacy group Arakan Project put the death toll between 10 and 60, while a statement from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay put the figure at more than 40.
Pillay’s statement said the U.N. has received “credible information” about the violence in Du Chee Yar Tan village, which began on Jan. 9, when local Rakhine villagers attacked and killed eight Rohingya Muslim men. On Jan. 13, Rohingya villagers captured and killed a police sergeant, while later that evening, police and local Rakhine killed at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children, it said.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Friday it had treated 22 people who had apparently been wounded last week around the time of the reported massacre.
HRW said on Friday that it had received reports that police have “orally issued a blanket order permitting the arrest of all Rohingya men and boys over the age of 10 in the area.”
The incidents could not immediately be independently verified because the areas are off limits to journalists and the government strictly controls access by international aid groups.
Any deaths this week would add to the tally of at least 237 people killed in religious violence across Myanmar since June 2012, which has also displaced more than 140,000 people. Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar aboard rickety boats, making perilous voyages across the Indian Ocean in the hope of reaching safety as refugees.
The exodus of Rohingya by sea has created a profitable enterprise for authorities and traffickers in neighbouring Thailand, HRW’s Thailand researcher Sunai Phasuk told a news conference in Bangkok.
He said Rohingya boats were intercepted, the migrants put in custody and deported “unofficially right into the hands of traffickers.”
“Throughout this process, there is a profit to be made by any agency involved. Rohingya have become lucrative merchandise for Thai officials guarding the border by sea and by land, and those in charge of enforcing immigration law all have benefited from the plight of the Rohingya,” Sunai said.
In-depth reports by Reuters and Thomson Reuters Foundation have detailed the apartheid tactics being used against the Rohingya, the resulting mass exodus by boat, as well as their falling prey to human traffickers in Thailand.
Human Rights Watch warned that sectarian violence in Rakhine had “metastasised” around Myanmar. “In previously fairly stable areas, where Buddhist and Muslims coexisted for a very long time, you really saw organised but also spontaneous and organic anti-Islamic feeling,” Myanmar-based researcher David Mathieson said at the news conference in Bangkok.