Friday, December 16, 2011

Activists warn of Rohingya refugee influx

20:03 Thu Dec 15 2011
Human rights groups say up to 25 boats of Burmese Muslim Rohingya refugees have set off from Bangladesh since September for Malaysia or Indonesia and may head on to Australia.

Chris Lewa, Thailand-based co-ordinator for the Arakan Project, a human rights group supporting the Rohingya, says groups of up to 15 refugees may later seek to make the journey onwards to Australia.

"In terms of (numbers of) boats I would say Australia for some is a secondary movement. But the boat leaving from Bangladesh in Arakan border are mostly heading to Malaysia," Ms Lewa said.

"But we have observed a small number of Rohingya and maybe increase in the future of Rohingya who have been in Malaysia for a while and they are now moving towards Australia," she told AAP.

Up to 300 Rohingya have made their way to Australia over the past three years, fleeing discrimination and destitution.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority, mostly live in Rakhine State in western Burma, but face discrimination and official abuse by Burmese authorities, says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"Clearly the situation in northern Rakhine State is horrific. There have been no significant changes in the way they are treated by the Burmese authorities. So you still have discrimination," Mr Robertson said.

In Bangladesh there are some 20,000 United Nations-registered Rohingya refugees as well as 400,000 unregistered living in sprawling overcrowded camps.

Recently Bangladesh and Burma agreed to see the Rohingya refugees be returned to Burma despite many have no national identity papers.

"It's their discriminatory policies and their abuse of the Rohingya over the years that have created this incentive to flight," Mr Robertson said.

He said Australia should press Burma to deal humanly with the Rohingya refugees.

"The Australian government should be pressing very hard on the Burmese to recognise in fact the Burmese government is in many ways a source of this problem," he said.

The Rohingyas' plight comes as Australia's Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) denied security clearance to three Rohingya asylum seekers, despite the men being transferred to refugee centres on the mainland.

The three men had previously lived in Penang, Malaysia.

"These people were just simple refugees involved in some small business to survive in Malaysia," the Arakan Project's Ms Lewa said.

The case has been taken up by Amnesty International.

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