Thousands of migrants risking their lives at sea in South East Asia

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Fishermen manoeuvre a boat in a waterway near Sittwe in Mynamar. © UNHCR/V.Tan

The outbreak of inter communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state has forced over 87,000 people to undertake the perilous sea journey across the Bay of Bengal over the past two years, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Majority of those fleeing the violence are the Rohingya from Myanmar, but also Bangladeshis are among them.

This year alone, UNHCR estimates that over 20,000 migrants have made the long and dangerous journey from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond.

Adrian Edwards from UNHCR says the migrants were paying human traffickers up to $300 for the journey across the Bay of Bengal.

"These developments take place in the context of a very challenging protection environment for refugees in the region. States including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are not signatory to the refugee convention and lack formal legal frameworks for dealing with refugees. Without a legal status they are often at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation under immigration laws. It also makes legal employment impossible and drives many people, including women and children, into exploitative and vulnerable situations. There are also unconfirmed reports of deaths due to illness, heat, a lack of food and water and severe beatings when people tried to move. Some passengers reportedly jumped off boats in desperation." 

UNHCR says more than 7,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have travelled by sea are held in detention facilities in the region, including over 5,000 in Australia or its offshore processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration 1.44″

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