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Dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar, B'desh flee camps by boat


Reuters
YANGON/COX'S BAZAR
Dozens of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats to try to reach Malaysia, officials and aid workers said on Thursday, raising fears of a fresh wave of such dangerous voyages after a 2015 crackdown on people smugglers.
One boat attempted to set sail from the southern coast of Bangladesh on Wednesday, the coast guard said, while several vessels left Rakhine state in western Myanmar, according to Rohingya leaders, aid workers and a monitoring group.
Officials detained 33 Rohingya and six Bangladeshis aboard a fishing boat bound for Malaysia in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal, said Foyezul Islam Mondol, the head of the coast guard in southeastern Teknaf upazila.
Six Bangladeshis were also arrested, he said.
A Myanmar government spokesman could not be reached for comment. Kyaw Swar Tun, deputy director of the Rakhine state government, said he was unaware of any boats leaving.
More than 700,000 Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, fled Rakhine following an army-led crackdown in August last year, settling in sprawling Bangladeshi refugee camps, according to UN agency figures, while hundreds of thousands remain inside the country in internal displacement camps and villages.
Refugees say soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence last year, while the United Nations has accused the military of"genocidal intent". Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations.
For years, Rohingya on both sides of the border have boarded boats organised by smugglers in the dry months between November and March, when the sea is calm. The perilous journey to Thailand and Malaysia, often undertaken in overcrowded, rickety vessels, has cost many lives.
Thailand cracked down on the trade after discovering a series of mass graves in 2015, leading to a crisis when smugglers abandoned their human cargo and left boats adrift in the Andaman Sea.
The new departures come as Myanmar prepares to take some of the refugees back after agreeing with Bangladesh to start repatriation on November 15, despite widespread opposition from Rohingya, who say they will not return without guarantees of basic rights, including citizenship and freedom of movement.
The United Nations has said conditions in Rakhine, where Buddhists have protested against the repatriation, are not conducive for returns and the special envoy on human rights, Yanghee Lee, on Thursday urged a halt to the"rushed plans".

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