UN: Boat People Fleeing Myanmar, Bangladesh

31 August, 2014

The United Nations says there has been a sudden increase in people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat. Activists fear the number will continue to rise as refugees leave unclean camps and violence in Myanmar. They say that is especially true of ethnic Rohingya.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees wrote the report. It says from June 2013 to June 2014, more than 53,000 people fled by sea from the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, formerly Burma. That is an increase of 60 percent from the year before. More than 20,000 people fled the area in the first six months of this year. Some observers say they were traveling to the border between Malaysia and Thailand or to Indonesia or Australia.

Chris Lewa is a rights activist and researcher on the ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar's western Arakine state. She says that many attempts to flee did not happen until recently. She says more people appear ready now to risk their lives at sea.

"(It is) very worrying and the fact that, I think, the situation that it is not going to stop now. Since the 10th of August, we noticed again several boats leaving in a short span of time and that means that probably going to continue increase again as the (sailing) season continues (to) really picks up."

The U.N. report says more than 200 people have died at sea. It says more than 7,000 people are now being detained at centers across the area.

UN: Boat People Fleeing Myanmar, Bangladesh
In this 2013 file photo, ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are transported by a wooden boat to a shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar, Indonesia.

Hundreds of people have sailed to Australia. But the country tries to keep them from landing. Australian naval forces have stopped refugee boats off its coast. And the country holds refugees at offshore camps.

Many of the people who are fleeing are ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar. They face increasing violence and discrimination. In 2012, 280 people died in fighting between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist communities. The fighting forced more than 140,000 people into refugee camps. Most of them were Rohingya.

Yanghee Lee is the U.N. official for human rights in Myanmar. He says conditions in the camps are very poor.

Activist Chris Lewa says the refugees often face violence and hunger. She says governments in the area have not helped them.

"One of the problems, of course, is the fact that, the countries in the region, I mean, there is no regional response to this problem and there is very little access to protection. I mean, as you can see, most of these people end up in Malaysia, but also others are caught in Thailand -- there are still a number in detention in Thailand. At the moment, there is probably going to be more in the coming weeks and months."

The UNHCR says it is educating and giving medical help to refugees in Thailand and Malaysia.

This report was based a story from reporter Ron Corben in Bangkok. It was written by Special English by Christopher Cruise, and edited by Jerilyn Watson. _____________________________________________________________

Words in the News

refugee - n. a person who has been forced to flee because of unjust treatment, danger or war

observe - v. to watch, to look at carefully; to celebrate or honor something; observer - n. a person who watch or look at (something) carefully

activist - n. one who seek change through action

discrimination - n. unfair treatment or consideration based on opinion about a whole group instead of on the qualities of an individual