Myan­mar to start mov­ing mi­grants to Bangladesh


Some 150 mi­grants found adrift in a boat off Myan­mar’s coast were set Mon­day for trans­fer to neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh, an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial said, re­turn­ing them to homes many tried to flee months ago.

Southeast Asia’s mi­grant cri­sis un­furled at the start of May, leav­ing thou­sands from Bangladesh and Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity trapped at sea.

Since then, around 4,500 of them have re­turned to shore, but the U.N. es­ti­mates around 2,000 oth­ers are still on the wa­ter.

Nearly 1,000 have been taken to Myan­mar’s west­ern Rakhine state, which bor­ders Bangladesh, af­ter be­ing found by Myan­mar’s navy in two boats in the Bay of Ben­gal.

Nei­ther na­tion ini­tially showed a will­ing­ness to ac­cept them and rights groups are con­cerned some could be pushed to the wrong side of the bor­der.

But they now ap­pear to have agreed on the na­tion­al­ity of some of the res­cued mi­grants, who come from a first boat­load of more than 200 found in late May.

“Bangladesh will trans­fer 150 mi­grants af­ter a friendly meet­ing be­tween two coun­tries,” Saw Naing, deputy direc­tor of Maung­daw dis­trict im­mi­gra­tion told AFP.

The group — all men — moved from a hold­ing camp on Mon­day to a bridge over the Naf River that sep­a­rates the two coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to AFP re­porters.

They were given new, clean clothes, mak­ing a marked con­trast to the con­di­tions they were found in — un­washed, bare-chested and hun­gry af­ter weeks on an over­crowded boat.

Myan­mar ini­tially said all 208 on the first boat they in­ter­cepted were from Bangladesh, lead­ing to fears it may try to de­port un­wanted Ro­hingya Mus­lims, some 1.3 mil­lion of whom live in Rakhine State.

The coun­try has yet to clearly state what the ori­gins of the re­main­ing pas­sen­gers are or what will hap­pen to mi­grants who are not deemed to be from Bangladeshi ter­ri­tory.

The fate of 733 other mi­grants found on an­other boat on May 19 has also yet to be de­cided, with of­fi­cials from both coun­tries still in the process of ver­i­fy­ing

their na­tion­al­i­ties.

Bud­dhist Protest

Im­pov­er­ished Rakhine state is a tin­der­box of ten­sion be­tween its Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity and a heav­ily per­se­cuted Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, many of whom live in dis­place­ment camps af­ter deadly un­rest erupted there in 2012.

Bud­dhist hard- lin­ers there are plan­ning a day of protest on Sun­day against lo­cal au­thor­i­ties for help­ing the des­per­ate boat mi­grants.

Myan­mar re­fuses to rec­og­nize the ma­jor­ity of its Ro­hingya as cit­i­zens and places a raft of re­stric­tions on them, such as fam­ily size, move­ments and ac­cess to jobs.

In re­cent years tens of thou­sands of Ro­hingya have left, flee­ing on of­ten deadly voy­ages across the Bay of Ben­gal at the hands of ruth­less peo­ple- smug­gling and traf­fick­ing net­works.

They have been joined by hun­dreds of Bangladeshi eco­nomic mi­grants, many from the dirt­poor Cox’s Bazar coastal area ad­ja­cent to Rakhine.

The ex­o­dus was largely ig­nored un­til a crack­down on the peo­plesmug­gling trade in Thai­land last month caused chaos as gang­mas­ters aban­doned their hu­man car­goes on land and sea.

While many mi­grants were des­per­ate to leave their homes, hor­ror sto­ries have also emerged of kid­nap at gun­point in Bangladesh by traf­fick­ers fat­ten­ing their prof­its with larger hu­man car­goes.

Myan­mar has come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to halt the on­go­ing per­se­cu­tion of its Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion.

But the au­thor­i­ties have stuck to their line that Ro­hingya are not flee­ing per­se­cu­tion.

Myan­mar in­sists most


the mi­grants them are from Bangladesh and has vowed to send them back across the bor­der.

Po­lice in the coun­try have ar­rested more than 90 peo­ple for hu­man traf­fick­ing of­fenses this year, me­dia re­ported Mon­day, but no cases have been un­cov­ered in Rakhine state from where per­se­cuted Ro­hingya have fled in droves.


(Above) Mi­grants who were found at sea on a boat wave as they ar­rive at a bor­der fence be­fore they move back to Bangladesh in the sub-town­ship of Taung Pyo, Maung­daw, lo­cated near the Bangladesh bor­der, in the Myan­mar state of Rakhine on Mon­day, June 8. (Right) Mi­grants who were found adrift at sea in a boat are repa­tri­ated across the Bangladesh-Myan­mar bor­der at Ukhia on the out­skirts of Cox’s Bazar on Mon­day.

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