U.N. warns of fresh exodus of boat people from Myanmar

The U.N. refugee agency warned Friday of growing signs of a fresh exodus of boat people from Myanmar amid the latest outbreak of violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

During just four days last week, more than 1,500 people left Rakhine by boat, with some reportedly drowning off the coast over the weekend, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told a press conference in Geneva.

"We are concerned that the trend does seem to be increasing," UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton said, adding that Rohingas are often forced to travel by boat because they have no citizenship or valid documents, making crossing overland difficult.

Over 24,000 people, the majority being Rohingas, have left Myanmar and Bangladesh during the first eight months of the year hoping to reach countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to interviews of migrants undertaken by UNHCR staff members, protection concerns and the general instability in Rakhine State are the main factors driving people out of the country, McNorton said.

Tension between Buddhist and Muslim communities has increased over the last few months in Rakhine State, resulting in human casualties and property lootings and destruction.

Some 140,000 people are still internally displaced a year after a wave of inter-communal violence first erupted in Rakhine in June 2012.