SITTWE, Burma - Fleeing prosecution to monsoon danger, boats carrying dozens Rohingya Muslims have capsized after being trapped by storm in the troubling sea.
"The government has been repeatedly warned to make appropriate arrangements for those displaced in Rakhine state," Isabelle Arradon, deputy Asia Pacific director of Amnesty International, said in a statement cited by the BBC News Online on Tuesday, May 14."Now thousands of lives are at stake unless targeted action is taken immediately to assist those most at risk."
Boats were evacuating more than 150 Muslims fleeing their areas ahead of powerful Cyclone Mahasen which threatened camps hosting thousands of displaced Rohingya.
Striking rocks off Pauktaw in Rakhine state, one of the boats sank, leaving Muslim refugees fighting the waves in the middle of the powerful storm.
A military intelligence officer told Reuters at least 50 people drowned when one boat, out of six leaving Pauktaw, went down at around midnight on Monday.
Accounts for actual number of capsizing boats remained unclear.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been displaced from their homes in western Burma last year after a deadly wave of sectarian violence with the Buddhist majority.
The United Nations said about 69,000 people living in Rakhine are at risk of flooding during the rainy season, which starts this month and continues until September.
The evacuation was planned after the United Nations warned last week that there could be a humanitarian catastrophe if people were not evacuated.
"We understand that yesterday evening they went out with the approval of government officials," Kirsten Mildren, a spokeswoman for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OCHA) in Bangkok, told Reuters.
"This was part of an official government evacuation plan although the boats were not government boats. They were moving from a low-lying area to a safer area."
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said if the government failed to evacuate those at risk, "any disaster that results will not be natural but man-made".
Death Every Where
Surrounded by death either at land or sea, many Rohingya Muslim refugees have refused government evacuation.
"If the storm comes, we want to die here," Fatima Hadu, 65, told Reuters as the rain poured onto shelters built with little more than bamboo and thatch.
Hadu's opinion was shared by many Rohingya refugees who still remember the government prosecution which led them to these refugee camps.
"We didn't receive food assistance here," one man said.
"If we go to a new place, we won't receive food assistance. Whether there's a storm or not, we will die here.
"We do not want to move to another place in this weather," Maung Maung, a Rohingya Muslim told Agence France-Presse (AFP) by telephone from a camp outside Sittwe.
"We are better off staying here to die."
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims have been facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland Burma.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term Rohingya, referring to them as Bengalis.