Myanmar to deport migrants as UN chief urges further rescues

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Rohingya men eat food at a confinement area for migrants at Bayeun, Aceh province, after more than 400 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rescued by Indonesian fishermen off the waters of the province on May 20. The widespread persecution of the impoverished community in Myanmar's Rakhine state is one of the primary causes for the current regional exodus, alongside growing numbers trying to escape poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh. AFP PHOTO

Rohingya men eat food at a confinement area for migrants at Bayeun, Aceh province, after more than 400 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rescued by Indonesian fishermen off the waters of the province on May 20. The widespread persecution of the impoverished community in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is one of the primary causes for the current regional exodus, alongside growing numbers trying to escape poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh. AFP PHOTO

YANGON: A group of migrants recently rescued by Myanmar will be deported to Bangladesh, officials confirmed Saturday, as the United Nations chief called on regional nations to prioritise saving the lives of those still stranded at sea.

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Southeast Asia is currently battling an exodus of boat people fleeing persecution and poverty, with up to 2,000 vulnerable migrants thought to be stranded in the Bay of Bengal, many at the mercy of ruthless people smugglers.

Most are Muslim Rohingyas from the western Rakhine state in Myanmar, where they are not recognized as citizens and instead referred to as “Bengalis” or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Bangladeshis, meanwhile, are also trying to escape grinding poverty.

More than 3,500 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking in early May threw the illicit trade into chaos.

Myanmar has faced increasing international pressure to stem the deluge from its shores and deliver urgent humanitarian relief to thousands still trapped at sea.

On Friday the country’s navy said it had carried out its first rescue of a migrant boat when scores of bare-chested men were found crammed into the hull of a wooden fishing vessel and taken to shore.

Myanmar officials say all 208 men are from Bangladesh and will soon be returned there. AFP wasn’t able to independently verify where the migrants were from.

“We are giving humanitarian assistance to them. After that we will deport them back to the relevant country,” Zaw Htay, director of the presidential office, told AFP on Saturday.

“We have made contact with Bangladeshi border officials on the ground regarding the arrived persons,” he added.

Bangladesh’s border guard force said a team would travel to Myanmar shortly.

“Our commander will go himself. The entire procedure might take up to two or three days to complete,” Major Abu Russell Siddiki, a spokesman at the Teknaf border post, told AFP.

A separate law enforcement source said Bangladesh wanted to make sure Myanmar did not send any Rohingya.

The rescue by the Myanmar navy comes as fears grow for migrants still stuck at sea at a time when the dry winter months are about to give way to the regional monsoon.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said finding and saving the lives of those migrants should be a “top priority”.

Speaking during a visit to Hanoi, he called on regional nations to tackle the “root causes” of the current exodus at an upcoming conference in Thailand later this month.

“But when people are drifting on the sea, how we can search and rescue them and provide life saving humanitarian assistance, that is a top priority at this time,” he said.

The Rohingya face daily discrimination and a raft of restrictions. Many live in displacement camps after scores were killed in 2012 as violence flared between the community and local Buddhists — an event that caused a spike in people trying to flee on boats.

Most migrants aim for Malaysia and Indonesia using dangerous and lucrative smuggling networks that criss-cross the region.

Over recent years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis have left their homes in what has become the largest regional sea migration since the end of the Vietnam War.

The smugglers largely went about their business unhindered until the crack down by Thailand on smuggling networks in the country’s south, which caused many gangmasters to abandon their victims.

Other smugglers off the coast of Myanmar have held off making the crossing because of the crackdown, instead keeping their human cargo trapped on boats moored in the Bay of Bengal.

A trickle of would-be migrants have managed to return to Myanmar after relatives raised funds to buy them back from smugglers.

But many more are thought to be still stuck on boats, and aid workers have urged countries to rescue them before the region is lashed by heavy monsoon rains.

Myanmar has seen surging Buddhist nationalism in recent years and spates of violence targeting Muslim minorities have raised doubts over its much vaunted reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

Many comments posted Saturday by readers on a Myanmar government Facebook page announcing the recent rescue were vitriolic.

“Pity. Push them back,” wrote one user.

“Myanmar doesn’t want Kalars,” wrote another using a racist term for Muslims in Myanmar.

Noble Peace Prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is yet to comment on the current crisis, a silence that observers attribute to fears over alienating a swathe of the electorate just months ahead of the polls.

AFP

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1 Comment

  1. HELP CHRISTIAN REFUGEES on

    Bangladesh should learn to be a responsible nation and stop exporting its population in mass numbers to other nations, where demographic changes begin to cause cultural and religious tensions. Bangladesh is an Islamic nation, and as an Islamic nation it is entitled to a lot of support and financial backing of wealthy Islamic Gulf states. Bangladesh needs to work closely with most of the Islamic NGOs in repatriating these people and teaching them to live a decent life using tradition methods and sustainable development. Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar all have already social issues to sort out and they don’t need additional burden being put on them. The world’s silence at large number of Christians and Catholic clergy being put to death in middle east as well as Christian indigenous people being ill-treated in Myanmar and driven out is shocking. This bias towards Christian poor refugees and ill-treated people needs to end. If Christians cannot help their own Christian religion’s people they set a bad example to the world about their faith. A person who neglects his own family is no position to talk about others. Refuge must be given to minority Buddhists and Christians in Bangladesh living in daily torment of Islamic radicals. They deserve the first priority, just because they are long suffering and patient, does not mean they should be sidelined and neglected. Islamic wealthy nations are capable of helping Muslim refugees. There are 50 + Islamic nations on earth with large underpopulated land areas and plenty of wealth. Thanks to Gambia, for agreeing to take the Muslim Rohingya, now it is time to focus on the forgotten Christian refugees. May Philippine people pray for Kachin, Chin, middle eastern Christian refugees suffering daily of hunger, neglect, violence. Jesus said, those who take care of the LEAST OF HIS (belonging to God) brothers, shall not loose their reward. One can only belong to JESUS as HIS through faith in Christ alone. It clearly means Christian people. Truth hurts, but truth is truth.