President Obama will be in Myanmar later this week for the East Asia Summit. A story Thursday by Jane Perlez of the New York Times reminded the president and the rest of the world about the plight of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya people and their victimization by corrupt police and immigration officials.
The Rohingya are part of a Muslim minority in the mainly Buddhist country. They have to prove their family has lived in Myanmar for more than 60 years to “qualify for second-class citizenship or be placed in camps,” Perlez said. Few can produce the proof the government requires.
Most Rohingya want to leave Myanmar and are trying to do that.
“In the last three weeks alone,” the Times said, “14,500 Rohingya have sailed from the beaches of Rakhine State to Thailand, with the ultimate goal of reaching Malaysia.”
A big obstacle for those trying to leave are corrupt police. They demand bribes from the human smugglers who arrange boats trips to Thailand.
One smuggler told the Times that police recently demanded a $2,000 bribe for letting a boat leave carrying 20 Rohingya.
The smugglers offered slighly less but the police wouldn’t accept it, so the trip didn’t happen.
Last week, President Obama called President Thein Sein of Myanmar and asked him to address the “tensions and humanitarian situation in Rakhine State” where most Rohingya live, the White House said.
The Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar. After attacks on them in 1978, around 200,000 fled to Bangladesh, the NYT said. The latest attacks in 2012 left hundreds of Rohingya dead and dozens of their villages burnt to the ground.
At least a quarter of a million Rohingya now live in camps with little access to medical care, and most are forbidden to leave.
Matthew Smith, the director of the NGO Fortify Rights said officials in Myanmar are complicit in the human smuggling.
“We’ve documented Myanmar police and armed forces taking payments as high as seven million kyat ($7,000) in return for a boat’s passage to sea,” he told the New York Times.
In some cases, the Myanmar Navy escorted boats filled with fleeing Rohingya and operated by criminal gangs out to international waters, Smith said.
The Times said a 20-year-old Rohingya student paid a “broker” $4,000 that his family raised to fly 90 minutes from a Rohinga camp in the north to Myanmar’s capital Yangon in the south, where life is better for Rohingya.
The student said the broker gave more than 75 percent of the cost to immigration officials who control departures by Rohingya from the camps.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.