By Zaw Zaw Htwe 8 January 2021
YANGON—Despite stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, more than 100 undocumented individuals from Rakhine State—some of them coronavirus-positive—have been detained by Myanmar authorities during a two-week period while allegedly being trafficked through major cities.
On Wednesday, the police force of Yangon Region’s Shwepyithar Township arrested 99 Rohingya (26 males and 73 females) who had been held at two houses in the township for a month by human traffickers.
After being arrested, the 99 detainees were placed in isolation at a township quarantine center and tested for COVID-19.
Of the 99, five tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, according to Dr. Daw Myat Myat Hnin, director of the township’s Public Health Department.
In 2001, Myanmar introduced restrictions that prohibit Rohingya people from leaving Rakhine State and require them to get permission from township authorities before they travel.
Police Captain Tin Maung Lwin of Shwepyithar Police Station told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the detainees are from villages in four Rakhine townships: Sittwe, Maungdaw, Kyauktaw and Buthidaung.
They had been held by the traffickers and were waiting to leave for Malaysia.
Police Capt. Tin Maung Lwin said police have opened cases under sections 367 and 370 of the Penal Code against four people who brought the people from Rakhine State.
Under Section 367, whoever kidnaps or abducts any person resulting in grievous injury or slavery shall be jailed for up to 10 years.
Section 370 carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for those convicted of buying or disposing of any person as a slave.
On Monday morning, authorities in Chaungtha in Ayeyarwady Region’s Pathein Township seized a boat carrying seven Rohingya people from Rakhine State in Myanmar’s waters 5 miles (8 km) offshore
The authorities told the media they would take action against five boat crew members for transporting the undocumented people.
Dr. Thiha Aung, deputy director of Ayeyarwady Region’s Public Health Department, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that all detainees had tested negative for COVID-19 while they were being isolated at the quarantine center.
On Dec. 24, Myanmar authorities also seized a vehicle owned by a Buddhist monk carrying 13 Rohingya people from Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township at a COVID-19 checkpoint in Bago Region’s Pyay Township.
In that case, a Buddhist monk and driver fled the scene and the 13 undocumented people have been isolated at a township health-care center for COVID-19 tests.
In late August 2020, Myanmar’s navy arrested 42 undocumented people from Rakhine State in Myanmar’s waters off Mawlamyinegyun Township in Ayeyarwady Region.
In early September 2020, Myanmar authorities sent 41 of those detainees back to Rakhine State without taking any action. The other one was hospitalized at a Yangon hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus.
In that case, five people were charged under Section 367 for illegally transporting the people with their boat.
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