Ninety-nine Rohingya, mostly women an children as young as 5, were arrested in Yangon while on their way to Malaysia.
According to police in Shwe Pyi Thar Township, five of the group arrested at a private residence later tested positive for COVID-19. Police said they followed a Rohingya man spotted by the police station to the home.
“We found him on Bayintnaung Road in front of our police station. It turned out there were 99 others,” Tin Maung Lwin, deputy station chief, told reporters Thursday.
Two men and two women suspected of helping the group in its attempt to reach Malaysia were also arrested.
Human Rights Watch said they were arrested for nothing more than traveling in their own country and should be freed and, after recovering from the virus, allowed to travel freely.
“Rohingya are effectively denied citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law so the government considers them ‘illegal’ aliens, refusing to issue legal documentation that would allow them to travel within the country,” Manny Maung, the group’s Myanmar researcher, wrote in a statement. “The right to freedom of movement does not depend on nationality, and statelessness cannot be invoked as a justification for the denial of free movement.”
Even before the 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove nearly 1 million Rohingya from their homes, the heavily persecuted group had taken to the sea, often in shoddy boats, in attempts to reach new homes. Also last week, 19 Rohingya from Rakhine State were arrested at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport, seven of whom tested positive COVID-19.
Myanmar is currently recovering from its second-wave outbreak that began in August, with illegal cross-border travel blamed for igniting a growing outbreak in Thailand.