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Tags: Myanmar | migrants | boats | refugees | Thailand

Myanmar Agrees Growing Migrant Boat Crisis Is of 'Concern'

Monday, 18 May 2015 06:18 AM EDT

Myanmar on Monday acknowledged international "concerns" about waves of boat people, many of whom are fleeing from persecution, but denied it is solely to blame as thousands languish in dire straits at sea.

The comments came as fresh details emerged from migrants of brutal fighting with metal bars and knives that left at least 100 dead as food and water dwindled on their rickety vessel as it drifted in Indonesian waters.

Southeast Asia is gripped by an escalating migrant boat crisis that has seen nearly 3,000 migrants swim to shore or be rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past week.

Others have been turned back to sea, sparking international outrage and fears that time is running out to rescue thousands still believed to be trapped with scarce supplies on the unwanted boats.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, a minority who face daily prejudice and a raft of restrictions in western Myanmar, have long fled in rickety boats across the Bay of Bengal.

In recent years they have been joined by growing numbers of economic migrants from neighboring Bangladesh looking to escape grinding poverty.

Myanmar's part in the grim and often deadly exodus had been largely ignored by its neighbors.

But the former army-run nation has faced growing international pressure this month after thousands of migrants were abandoned in overcrowded boats by people smugglers following a crackdown on the trade in Thailand, a key transit point.

Myanmar Information Minister Ye Htut said his country understood "the concerns (of) the international community on the people in the sea."

"Instead of blaming Myanmar for all these problems ... all these issues should be solved by the regional partners," he added in English following a briefing between government officials and diplomats in Yangon.

Myanmar has balked at the criticism it has faced and has yet to confirm whether it will attend a regional summit on the migrant crisis organized by Thailand.

Authorities in Myanmar deny that the country's 1.3 million Rohingya exist as a minority group on its soil and maintain they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.



The migrants who have made it to shore in Indonesia have mostly been rescued by fishermen, and grim tales have emerged of deadly fights between Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on board and harsh treatment by people-smugglers.

Some described a vicious brawl that broke out as desperation exploded into bloodshed on their sinking boat, which was discovered off Aceh, on the huge Indonesian island of Sumatra.

"Suddenly the Bangladeshis came out of the deck, and they attacked all of us who were on the top of the boat," said Rohingya migrant Hasina Begun.

"Those who wanted to save their lives, had to jump in the sea, but my brother could not. When they found him, they beat him and then they slaughtered him. After that they threw him into the sea," the 22-year-old told AFP.

Bangladeshi migrants, who are now being kept separately from the Rohingya in an Indonesian shelter, claim that they were kept below deck by Myanmar people smugglers, who denied them food and water and favored the Rohingya.

Those interviewed put the number of dead between 100-200 from a boat carrying around 1,000 but precise figures are difficult to obtain. Either way scores are thought to have died in the fighting.

The horrific testimony will do little to allay fears for the safety of those still stuck on vessels in the Andaman Sea that are currently being bounced between countries in what rights groups have described as "human ping-pong."

The Indonesian navy said it had stopped a boat believed to be carrying migrants from entering its waters on Sunday after the vessel was spotted heading across the Malacca Strait from the direction of Malaysia.

After radio communication with the boat it turned back from Indonesia, armed forces spokesman Fuad Basya told AFP, adding it was not physically pushed back.

"It was heading to Indonesian waters from Malaysia and was denied entry," Basya said. "It was intercepted, and we stopped it from passing."

In Bangladesh local coastguard rescued seven nationals who said they were thrown off a Thai fishing trawler packed with migrants.

Coast guard station commander Dickson Chowdhury told AFP the men had seen three boats packed with migrants off Myanmar's shores.

© AFP 2023

Myanmar on Monday acknowledged international "concerns" about waves of boat people, many of whom are fleeing from persecution, but denied it is solely to blame as thousands languish in dire straits at sea.
Myanmar, migrants, boats, refugees, Thailand
Monday, 18 May 2015 06:18 AM
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