Thirty nongovernmental organizations issued a statement on Friday expressing concern about the nearly 1,000 boat people that are being held in temporary shelters in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state after being found adrift in the sea near the country last month.
Twenty-one social network groups from the state’s Maungdaw township and nine social groups from Buthidaung township presented 13 points, including rejections of an assertion by the United Nations that some of the boat people were from Myanmar as well as a call by the international organization for Myanmar’s government to address the humanitarian plight of its Muslim Rohingya minority group.
Aung Thaung Shwe from the Buthidaung Social Network told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the groups released the statement because they are unhappy about having the boat people in Rakhine state, where they are being housed in temporary shelters until officials can verify their identities and repatriate them.
“Our state is already in an unstable situation with many problems with these Bengalis,” he said, using the Myanmar government’s term for the country’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. “We are concerned that we could have more problems, which we don’t want, because we have these boat people from other countries.”
Rakhine state is the traditional home of the Rohingya, many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations before fleeing from persecution they say they have suffered in the Buddhist-dominated country.
“We have had problems and conflicts in our region,” Aung Thaung Shwe said. “We [ethnic Rakhine people] are a minority in this area [Maungdaw and Buthidaung], and these Bengali Muslims have bullied us every day. We are concerned about having more conflicts because of having more Bengali in the region.”
The Rakhine people cannot go into the forest to gather firewood or fish because of the Rohingya, who make up about 90 percent of the population of the two towns, he said.
“And then, we don’t know if there are some terrorists among these boat people,” he added.
Myanmar officials have said that most of the more than 700 migrants found on boats adrift in its waters last week are Bangladeshi.
The government of Bangladesh has already agreed to take back 150 of the more than 200 other boat people arrested by Myanmar officials on May 21 because they are citizens of Bangladesh.
Some of the migrants have said that Rohingya Muslims were also onboard.
No help from the U.N.
The statement issued by the social network groups also indicated that the Rakhine people would protest against the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), because U.N. organizations have only provided assistance to the Rohingya and not to them, Aung Thaung Shwe said.
“We have more Bengali boat people in our state because of pressure from these U.N. organizations,” he said, adding that the U.N. did not provide assistance to the Rakhine people when a passenger boat sank in Taungup township in March.
The U.N. Security Council held a briefing on human rights in Myanmar last week, which included discrimination against the Rohingya. In addition, the United States called on Myanmar to grant full rights to the Rohingya to prevent them from fleeing the country, although Myanmar has repeatedly denied that persecution caused their exodus.
Aung Thaung Shwe also pointed out that the U.N. had provided medicine to only about 10 households in each Rakhine village, but it had provided health care to every household in Rohingya villages.
The Rakhine groups will stage a protest if the boat people are not removed from their state, he said.
“The government said it will send these boat people back to their country, but we don’t trust it,” Aung Thaung Shwe said. “We have a plan to protest more if we have more Bengalis boat people in our state.”
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar, Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.