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Rohingya on the move again but in small numbers

Repressed minority hopes new Myanmar government will address their plight

Rohingya on the move again but in small numbers

Unidentified Rohingya children at camp in Sittwe in Rakhine State Myanmar. (Photo by Suphapong Eiamvorasombat/Shutterstock.com)

A small number of Rohingya refugees have made their way to Thailand where people smuggling routes are still in operation.

But as yet, there does not appear to be any evidence of large-scale movement.

News of five Rohingya men found in Thailand's southern Songkhla province marks the start of the so-called "sailing season" that begins once the South Asian monsoon season has ended. The news also came as a major conference on the regional crisis convened in Bangkok.

Aid groups already fear the worst, despite moves earlier this year by Thailand — a key transit country — to break up people smuggling operations.

"I heard that a small fishing boat which carried around 10 people left the camps near Sittwe in Rakhine state. But so far local smugglers are still keeping quiet," Khin Mg Myint, who lives in the Thetkapyin displaced persons camp told ucanews.com.

The scale of the Rohingya refugee crisis was revealed in May after authorities in Thailand clamped down on smuggling routes, leaving thousands of migrants abandoned at sea.

More than 4,000 migrants subsequently landed in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh and an unknown number perished at sea.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have made the journey from Rakhine state and neighboring Bangladesh, where grinding poverty — rather than persecution — is the main driver of migration.

Rohingya fishermen are seen together with several boats near the Ohn Taw Gyi camp for displaced persons near Sittwe, Rakhine State's capital city in March. (Photo by John Zaw)

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Myanmar sent back 48 Bangladeshis on Dec. 2, the last batch of a repatriation of almost 1,000 migrants who were rescued by Myanmar's navy in May and June 2015.

But 53 of the 1,000 people were not identified as Bangladeshi. This includes eight UNHCR refugee card-holders and 11 women and children.

These women and children were in shelters in Bangladesh as unregistered Myanmar residents, according to media reports quoting a statement by the Bangladeshi embassy in Myanmar.

The Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Rakhine state since sectarian violence erupted in 2012, leaving scores dead. About 150,000 people are confined to displacement camps in apartheid-like conditions, while thousands of people have tried to make a perilous journey to Malaysia through Bangladesh and Thailand with the assistance of people smuggler networks. 

The Myanmar government doesn't recognize Rohingya and regard them as 'Bengali,' implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Myanmar for generations.

Meanwhile, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia attended a second regional conference on irregular migration in Bangkok on Dec 4.

Ahead of the summit, also attended by other officials from other regional nations, Amnesty International called on the governments to prioritize protection of the rights of migrants and refugees in any action directed at combating human trafficking and managing irregular migration.

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