UN fears more Myanmar boat tragedies as Rohingya flee clashes
The UN refugee agency Tuesday urged Myanmar to stem sectarian violence to avoid a repeat of a boat tragedy believed to have killed dozens of Rohingya Muslims fleeing clashes in the country.
"As with the recent boat disasters on the Mediterranean, our worry is that similar tragedies with follow, unless actions are taken by concerned countries to address the causes and reduce the risks," spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters.
"It is unacceptable that people are driven by such desperation into life-risking journeys, often falling into the hands of ruthless smugglers," he added.
A boat carrying almost 70 Rohingya refugees headed to Malaysia capsized Sunday off Myanmar's coast, police said, leaving dozens missing in treacherous seas and a reported eight survivors.
Around 140,000 people -- the majority of them Rohingya -- were displaced by two waves of violence between the Buddhist majority and Muslims in Rakhine last year that left some 200 people dead.
Thousands of Rohingya have since fled Myanmar, many paying smugglers for passage on rickety and overcrowded boats to Malaysia or further south, despite the dangers posed by rough seas in the Bay of Bengal.
Hundreds are believed to have perished at sea so far this year.
Myanmar views its population of some 800,000 Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.
They are considered by the UN to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities, and the situation has raised questions about the government's reform credentials as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule.
Edwards said the UN stood ready to help Myanmar's government "address the root causes of this outflow", including seeking ways to resolve the statelessness.
He said the government and international community should also tackle the lack of development in what is Myanmar's second-poorest state.
Rohingya boats frequently make landfall in Thailand, where those passengers caught by authorities are detained.
"We are appealing to states in the region to strengthen search and rescue operations to prevent further loss of life at sea," said Edwards.
"We also urge regional governments to harmonise disembarkation and reception conditions and to offer temporary protection to people in need of international protection while durable solutions are sought."
© 2013 AFP