Abuse growing as thousands flee Myanmar violence, UN says
An internally displaced Muslim family sits in front of their bamboo accommodation at a camp on the outskirts of Sittwe in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine on March 30, 2014 - by Soe Than WIN
Two waves of deadly communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2012 left some 200 people dead and around 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya.
"Two years after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine state, thousands of people are still leaving by boat from the Bay of Bengal," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
"Reports of abuse and exploitation as people seek safety and stability elsewhere are meanwhile increasing," he said.
He said the desperate refugees faced abuse and exploitation from smugglers and traffickers en route, but also once they reached countries like Thailand and Malaysia.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 86,000 people have left the area by boat from the Bay of Bengal since June 2012, including 15,000 between January and April this year alone.
"People who have made it to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia have told UNHCR staff about overcrowded boats that sometimes lost their way or developed engine problems," Edwards said.
Boats sometimes ran out of food and water, and people who died along the way were said to have been thrown overboard, he said.
Some of those who reached Thailand told the UNHCR they had been taken to overcrowded "smugglers' camps" in the jungles or hills near the Thailand-Malaysia border, where they were kept for months -- "sometimes in cages" -- until their families could pay for their release, Edwards said.
"They recount daily beatings and that some people died," he said, adding that "they spent their days sitting in confined spaces and nights sleeping upright or in foetal position due to the lack of space".
The stateless Rohingya are considered by the UN to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Many of the displaced have gone without access to healthcare and other help after attacks on international humanitarian groups by Buddhist extremists earlier this year.
The UNHCR said Tuesday that humanitarian assistance had resumed and that it remained "committed to providing temporary shelters, coordinating camp management and addressing a difficult protection situation" in Rakhine.
However, Edwards said: "We are wary of activities that could entrench segregation and protracted displacement."
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