More than than 100 suspected Rohingya Muslims are being held by authorities after a boat was stopped by immigration officials some 30km southeast 0f central Yangon early this morning, multiple outlets are reporting.
The boat was boarded near Kyauktan township at about 5am, according to Reuters, and comes just days after reports of boats leaving in a bid to reach Malaysia.
While there is thus far no indication of this group’s intended destination, the two incidents in concert raise the specter of a potential repeat of 2015’s mass exodus by sea, which saw a number of dangerous boat voyages end in tragedy.
Aye Mya Mya Myo, a lower house lawmaker for Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party from Kyauktan, posted pictures of men and women huddled on a boat, floating on the Yangon River on Facebook.
Other images include police officials standing over men and women, presumably from the boat, squatting in a field and in a building.
“It’s possible that they are from Rakhine. Like in previous years, it is possible they are Bengali from Rakhine,” Kyaw Htay, an immigration official in Kyauktan township, told Reuters.
The Rohingya are routinely referred to as “Bengali” in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Rohingya are not one of the 135 “national races” recognized by the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law.
An estimated 720,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a brutal military campaign of rape, murder and pillage.
Myanmar has steadfastly denied most allegations, insisting that their “clearance operations” were a response to terrorist attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). However, a Fortify Rights report has alleged that preparations for what has been called ethnic cleansing were made prior to the ARSA attacks.
The arrests come just a day after a failed repatriation effort, in which no Rohingya Muslims voluntarily returned to Myanmar from Bangladesh after officials in both countries made preparations to receive 150 returnees per day.
About 1,000 Rohingya Muslims protested the repatriations, chanting, “We’re not going back.”