Recently Detained Migrants Will be Moved to a 'Safe Place': Myanmar Official

By BenarNews Staff
150602-BD-migrants-620 Migrants detained in Myanmar's Rakhine state, May 24, 2015.

More than 700 boat people detained at sea by Myanmar’s navy last week will soon be moved to a “safe place,” with refugees from neighboring Bangladesh sent back to that country if they wish to return, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Of the 727 boat people taken into custody on May 29 off Myanmar’s southern coast and now held on Hainggyi Island, “most are from Bangladesh,” Myanmar Minister of Information Ye Htut said on June 2.

“They have said they want to go back to their own country if they can’t travel on to where they want,” Ye Htut said.

“As they have requested this of us, we plan to send them to a safe place under guard by the Myanmar navy,” he added.

The refugees detained last week will be taken on Tuesday by ship to Sittwe, capital of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, from where they will be sent on to Maungtaw township near the border with Bangladesh, sources said.

A group of 208 boat people detained on May 21 off the Myanmar coast near Maungtaw is already present in Rakhine pending repatriation, adding to tensions in the majority-Buddhist state.

“It is reasonable for Rakhine people to feel uncomfortable,” Sittwe resident Than Tun said Tuesday.

“We now learn that 727 boat people will be arriving in Rakhine state, while 200 people from Bangladesh who are already here haven’t yet been sent back,” he said.

Communal clashes

Communal clashes have frequently erupted between Rakhine Buddhists and ethnic communities—including around a million Rohingya Muslim residents of the state—often identified by Myanmar’s government as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Although Rakhine residents and migrants from Bangladesh “haven’t gotten along in the past,” the 208 refugees now temporarily sheltering in the state are being properly cared for, Rakhine prime minister Maung Maung Ohn said.

“The Rakhine people have taken good care of them,” he said.

Bangladesh has already identified 200 of the 208 boat people taken into custody on May 21 as its own citizens “and is working on receiving them back,” he said.

Of the 727 taken into custody on May 29, though, “some may come from Myanmar,” Maung Maung Ohn said, adding, “We will know after we investigate further.”

Also on Tuesday, Myanmar parliamentarian Hla Swe, a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), submitted a proposal to strictly limit the time during which detained migrants may be held in Myanmar.

“I don’t like the phrase ‘temporarily detained,’” Hla Swe said. “These people [from Bangladesh] become Rohingya if it takes too long to send them home.”

“That’s why I submitted this proposal to limit the time they can be held in Myanmar and to verify their identity at the places where they’re found."


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