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Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar by sea, risking lives: UN
Saturday November 2, 2013 10:12 AM, IANS

The UN refugee agency has received worrying reports that a growing number of the Myanmar people are fleeing their country by sea, risking their lives on rickety boats to find safety and stability elsewhere, a UN spokesman said.

With the start of the sailing season, more than 1,500 people last week boarded boats in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state and headed into the Bay of Bengal, Xinhua cited Martin Nesirky as quoting from a report of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He is the spokesperson of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The agency received reports about passengers drowning off the coast of Rakhine state and feared that "as the rainy season comes to an end and the sailing season starts in earnest, more people could feel compelled to leave by boat, subjecting themselves to exploitation by smugglers," he said.

The UNHCR urged the Myanmar government and the international community to step up efforts to promote reconciliation and economic development in the state of Rakhine, and also pursue practical measures to ensure basic human rights so that the Rohingya, or Bengali-speaking Myanmar Muslim ethnic minorities, can lead normal lives where they are, Nesirky said.

The number of boat departures from the Bay of Bengal has risen dramatically since June 2012, when inter-communal violence erupted in Rakhine state, according to the UNHCR.

The agency estimated that more than 14,000 people left on boats from Myanmar and Bangladesh from June to December last year, and more than 24,000 people fled in the first eight months of this year.

More than 400 died or went missing during sea journeys so far this year, and those who survive often landed in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, the agency said.

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