The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) Friday said it has received worrying reports that more than 1,500 people fled Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state in rickety boats from the Bay of Bengal last week.
The agency said this could be the start of the sailing season when thousands of desperate people in Myanmar risk their lives in smugglers’ boats in search of safety and stability elsewhere.
UNHCR spokesperson Dan McNorton said, “According to UNHCR sources, more than 1, 500 people boarded boats in northern Rakhine state over the course of four days last week. There have also been reports of passengers drowning off the coast of Rakhine state last weekend. UNHCR has been unable to verify the conflicting information so far and we are seeking details from the authorities at present.”
The unrest in Rakhine began last year where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslims of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land.
Muslim communities within the state, particularly the Rohingya, are sometimes driven to desperation due to struggles with limitations on freedom of movement, protection from extortion and forced labor, and access to basic services and livelihood.