Myan­mar navy halts re­porters ar­riv­ing on mi­grant is­land

The China Post - - BUSINESS -

Myan­mar’s navy re­fused on Sun­day to let jour­nal­ists ap­proach a re­mote is­land where more than 700 mi­grants are said to be held fol­low­ing their res­cue last week.

Re­porters have been try­ing to ac­cess Thamee Hla Is­land at the mouth of the Ir­rawaddy since the au­thor­i­ties an­nounced that 727 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 74 women and 45 chil­dren, had been found drift­ing in a boat off Myan­mar’s coast and had been taken there.

They are part of a re­cent ex­o­dus of per­se­cuted Myan­mar Ro­hingya Mus­lims and Bangladeshi eco­nomic mi­grants who have fled the re­gion en masse in a cri­sis that re­gional na­tions have strug­gled to deal with.

Jour­nal­ists who tried to take small boats out to Thamee Hla Is­land were be­ing turned around by navy pa­trol ves­sels and were or­dered to delete any footage on their mem­ory cards, said an AFP re­porter on the nearby is­land of Haigyi.

Those re­turn­ing said they had been or­dered to sign doc­u­ments promis­ing not to try to make the jour­ney again.

The navy was un­avail­able com­ment Sun­day.

Mi­grant boats are a hugely sen­si­tive topic in Myan­mar. Its dis­cov­ery of two ves­sels crammed with peo­ple in re­cent weeks has deep­ened a tug of war be­tween neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh and the for­merly army-ruled na­tion over

for who is re­spon­si­ble for mi­grants found in the Bay of Ben­gal.

Myan­mar re­fuses to rec­og­nize its 1.3 mil­lion Ro­hingya living in the west­ern state of Rakhine as cit­i­zens. In­stead it refers to them as “Ben­galis” and al­leges they are il­le­gal im­mi­grants from across the bor­der.

They face daily dis­crim­i­na­tion in­clud­ing con­trols on their move­ments, fam­ily size and ac­cess to jobs, forc­ing tens of thou­sands to flee over­seas — usu­ally to Malaysia. That ex­o­dus in­creased dramatically af­ter 2012 when scores were killed in communal blood­let­ting in Rakhine.

Myan­mar has been keen to por­tray those leav­ing its shores as Bangladeshi eco­nomic mi­grants and re­jects wide­spread crit­i­cism that its treat­ment of the Ro­hingya is one of the root causes of the cur­rent ex­o­dus.

On Satur­day a lo­cal of­fi­cial from Haigyi Is­land said the mi­grants were all Bangladeshis and would be taken to an area near the Ban- gladesh bor­der in Rakhine state in the com­ing days.

But Bangladesh has in­sisted it will not take back any mi­grants who trace their ori­gin to Myan­mar.

And be­cause Myan­mar au­thor­i­ties refuse to use the term Ro­hingya, it is dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain where ex­actly the mi­grants come from.

No me­dia or aid group has yet been able to meet the mi­grants held on Thamee Hla Is­land to ver­ify where they say they orig­i­nate from.

A lu­cra­tive peo­ple- smug­gling trade has long thrived in the re­gion, largely ig­nored or col­luded at by the au­thor­i­ties. But a re­cent crack­down by Thai po­lice in the coun­try’s deep south threw smug­gling net­works into chaos as gang­mas­ters aban­doned their vic­tims on land and sea.

In re­cent weeks more than 3,500 mi­grants have turned up on Thai, Malaysian or In­done­sian soil and an es­ti­mated 2,500 more are still stranded at sea.

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