Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Buddhists protest aid offer

AFP, YANGON, Myanmar

A worker helps to prepare temporary shelters for migrants in Blang Adoe, Indonesia, on Wednesday last week.

Photo: AFP

Buddhist protesters backed by monks rallied in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State yesterday against help being offered to migrants found adrift on boats in the Bay of Bengal.

Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, is a tinderbox of tension between its Buddhist majority and a Rohingya Muslim minority, many of whom live in displacement camps after deadly unrest erupted there in 2012.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine in recent years, joined increasingly by economic migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, mainly headed for Malaysia and Indonesia.

The exodus was largely ignored until a crackdown on the people-smuggling trade in Thailand last month caused chaos as gangmasters abandoned their human cargos on land and sea.

About 4,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have since washed ashore in the region, while the UN estimates that about 2,000 others are still trapped on boats at sea.

After mounting international pressure, Myanmar’s navy rescued more than 900 migrants, who were brought to Rakhine. About 150 have since been repatriated to Bangladesh, but the rest are being held in border camps while Bangladesh and Myanmar decide their original nationality.

The rescues have infuriated some, who want the Rohingya expelled from Myanmar altogether and say the Burmese government should not help those stranded in the Bay of Bengal.

About 500 people, backed by dozens of monks, gathered under heavy rain in the state capital Sittwe chanting slogans, a witness who joined the protest told reporters by telephone.

The witness’ account was confirmed by a protest leader, who said simultaneous demonstrations would take place in 10 townships across the state.

“We are protesting against Bengalis that were sent to Rakhine State,” Aung Htay, a protest leader in Sittwe, told reporters.

Most Burmese nationals, including the government, use the term Bengali to describe Rohingya, many of whom have lived in the region for generations.

Most of the country’s estimated 1.3 million Rohingya are refused citizenship and face a raft of restrictions on their movement, family size and access to jobs.

In Maungdaw, the town closest to where the rescued migrants are being held, protest organizer Tin Maung Than said he expected 200 people to turn out.

“We are gathering people to protest against Bengali boat people here,” he said.

A flyer promoting protest plans seen by reporters called on people to “protect the future of Rakhine” and also referred to migrants by a commonly used racist epithet to describe Myanmar’s Muslim population.

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