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500 Rohingya Boat People Land in Indonesia

Ethnic Rohingya women and children whose boats were washed ashore on Sumatra Island board a military truck to be taken to a temporary shelter in Seunuddon, Aceh province, Indonesia, May 10, 2015.

Boats carrying nearly 500 members of Myanmar's long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority have reached shore in western Indonesia.

The men, women and children landed Sunday in north Aceh province, rescuers said.

Officials said most of those on the boats were Rohingya from Myanmar, but some were from Bangladesh.

Migrants said at least four boats left last week from Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state.

According to the migrants, the boats departed from Myanmar last week to escape conflict in the country. Many said there were few supplies on the boats leaving many in need of food and water.


The mostly Muslim Rohingya are denied citizenship and other basic rights in Myanmar and have been the victims of a wave of violence by extremist Buddhist mobs in recent years.

Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, does not recognize the existence of the Rohingya ethnicity. Government officials, and many locals, instead view Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis."

Sectarian unrest killed up to 280 people and displaced 140,000 others in June, 2012. Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to stay in filthy, overcrowded, prisonlike camps in western Rakhine state.

The U.N. General Assembly late last year passed a resolution urging the group to be granted full citizenship, equal rights, freedom of movement, and allowed to self-identify as Rohingya.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government of Myanmar to address the citizenship status of Rohingya Muslims ahead of elections planned for later this year.

Ban told regional officials at a meeting on Myanmar last month at the United Nations that the ongoing communal tensions in the country's western Rakhine state could be "seriously destabilizing."

'Troubling signs'

"There are already troubling signs of ethnic and religious differences being exploited in the run-up to the elections," Ban said, adding the reform process could be jeopardized if the underlying causes of tensions are not addressed.

The Myanmar government has rejected the demands for citizenship, but has expressed a willingness to consider citizenship for those who will identify as Bengali.

Burma's 1982 citizenship law said members of any officially recognized minority must be able to prove their ancestors lived in Burma before the British invaded Rakhine in 1823.

The British occupation of Rakhine prompted a large migration of Muslims into the area from neighboring Chittagong, then part of British-ruled India and now located in modern-day Bangladesh.

Many of Burma's hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims say their ancestors have lived in Burma for generations. But the impoverished minority group lacks the documentation to prove it.