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Police are searching for 87 Rohingya asylum seekers who have escaped from a Thai immigration centre. The men have been held since January for illegally entering Thailand from Burma.
The escapees used knives to file through iron bars and then used homemade ropes to abseil down the side of a building. They then fled into the woods in the Songkhla province of Southern Thailand.
Tension had been high in the detention centre that was crowded and unsanitary.
The group was among some 1800 Rohingya asylum seekers who fled from sectarian violence in Burma where tens of thousands have been displaced since fighting broke out between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine last year.
The escape is the second this month after 30 Rohingya broke out of a Songkhla police cell earlier in the month.
The Rohingya are a stateless group who are denied citizenship in Burma where the authorities consider them Bengali migrants, Bangladesh also refuse to acknowledge them.
Human Rights groups estimate that as many as 35,000 Rohingya fled Burma and neighboring Bangladesh by boat from June 2012 to May this year, most of them hoping to reach Muslim-Majority Malaysia.
Those who have made it to Thailand have been allowed to stay temporarily until a third country is willing to accept them, although thousands more are estimated to have been caught by Thai authorities and pushed back out to sea.
Human rights groups have said that the Rohingya are keep in overcrowded inhumane and unsafe detention centers in Thailand where men are kept separate from their wives and children, with women and children at risk of being targeted by both Thai and Rohingya human traffickers, who sell them on to neibouring countries such as Malaysia for considerable fees. Some of the men have been trafficked to work on fishing boats and farms.
Over 200 men, women and children have escaped from detention centers since July. According to Human Rights Watch, eight men have died while in the detention center.
The jail break comes the same day as a new report highlights a systemic failure by the Burmese government to protect the country’s Muslim minority, which comprises roughly 5% of Burma’s 60m population.
Over 250,000 people — mostly Muslims — and over 10,000 homes have been destroyed over the past two years due to violent clashes between Burma’s Muslims and Buddhists, the Physicians for Human Rights Report says, with the government not only failing to address major human rights violations but often being complicit in those violations.
This has resulted in violence spreading beyond the Rohingya population and has affected Muslim communities throughout the country, the report adds.
“The Burmese government has not only failed to protect vulnerable groups, but has created a dangerous culture of impunity that fuels human rights violations,” said the report’s co-author Dr Holly Atkinson.
“These horrific attacks can only be stopped if there is a thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible, and appropriate steps are taken to protect vulnerable and marginalised groups.”
Last week the Thai government discussed a plan to transfer over 1,800 Rohingya to refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, a move that would further incarcerate a vulnerable group in need of jobs and shelter, rights groups said.
Immigration in Ranong has distributed information on 10 of the escapees who are being hunted by police, the marine police and the military. Temporary check points have been set up in the border town and members of the public have been asked to report any sightings of the men to the police by calling 191, you can see their pictures below this article.
Story by Ann Kwanta