NEARLY half a million people have fled Burma (Myanmar) as of 2016, making the Southeast Asian nation the eighth among the top 10 countries of origin for the world’s 65 million refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study, released on Tuesday, said the number of refugees from Burma rose to 490,300 by the end of last year, up from 451,800 in 2015.
It said Bangladesh continued to host the largest number of these refugees at 276,200, while 26 other countries with large numbers of refugees from Burma include Thailand (102,600), Malaysia (87,000), and India (15,600).
As at end-2016, 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, the study said. This brings the total number of refugees to one that is bigger than the population of the United Kingdom. The study also said there was an increase of about 300,000 more displaced persons in 2016 than the previous year.
It noted that the pace at which people are becoming displaced remains very high with 20 people driven from their homes every minute last year on average.
In a statement on the study released in conjunction with World Refugee Day 2017, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said:
“By any measure this is an unacceptable number.”
“It speaks louder than ever to the need for solidarity and common purpose in preventing and resolving crises, and ensuring together that the world’s refugees, internally displaced and asylum-seekers are properly protected and cared for while solutions are pursued.”
In February, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said security forces in Burma committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
OHCHR’s allegation came following the government’s crackdown in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on border guard posts on Oct 9, which left several hundreds dead and saw more than 75,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.
About 1.1 million Rohingya people are denied citizenship in Burma. This lack of full citizenship rights means they are subject to other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.
The government withdrew their so-called white cards two years ago as part of a plan to expel them from the country and cancel their citizenship under the 1982 law.
Many in the Buddhist-majority country view the Rohingya as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh.