Off Sri Lanka’s northern shores on Sunday, the island nation’s navy and coastguard intercepted an Indian fishing boat carrying 30 Rohingya refugees. The group, who had been living in India, were accompanied by two suspected Indian traffickers. They were trying to enter Sri Lanka illegally, according to local police.
The impoverished Rohingya people have been fleeing Myanmar (formerly Burma) for decades. The “virtually stateless“refugees are leaving the Southeast Asian nation as they accuse security forces there of brutality and inhumane acts. Myanmar, which borders India, is dominated by Burman or Bamar people, who are largely Buddhist. The imbalance has fueled long-running rebellions between them and the minority communities, including the Rohingya who are mostly Muslim.
In Sri Lanka, navy spokesman Chaminda Walakuluge says they stopped the boat with its human cargo when a coastguard patrol observed the boat entering their waters on Sunday. “The coastguard noticed that there were very small children on board and escorted the dhow to a port and provided them with emergency assistance,” Walakuluge said.
Walakuluge said the two suspected traffickers were being detained for questioning. The other individuals found on board represent six families who fled Myanmar. Those 30 passengers included 7 men, 7 women and 16 children, two being infants with one only 15 days old and the other 4-months-old.
“The 32 people were produced before the magistrate on Monday and remanded them till May 2,” police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody told Reuters. “They have lived in India for more than five years.”
The refugees spoke to a local human rights official. “They said they got refugee status in New Delhi after coming to India five years back, via Bangladesh,” the anonymous official said. He added that their final destination had been Australia. From Sri Lanka, the group would have another 4,200 miles to travel to reach the Australian shores.
Many Myanmar refugees say that the over 1 million Rohingya who live in Myanmar suffer apartheid-like conditions.
Reuters reports that the Buddhist majority, who see the Rohingyas as trespassers from Bangladesh, want them to return there. But Bangladesh sees “the stateless Muslim minority” as Myanmar’s problem, even as around 69,000 Rohingyas have fled to there since October.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, has denied reports of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims, despite the claims of human rights groups and the refugees themselves.
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