Myanmar deported the first batch of about 150 boat people on Monday to neighboring Bangladesh, where a Rohingya man suspected of involvement in human trafficking was killed in a gunfight near the border between the two countries.
About 150 out of the roughly 200 migrants found adrift off Myanmar’s coast last month were handed over to officials in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, a representative from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state government said.
“They crossed the border bridge to go into Bangladesh, and they will be taken to their places by car,” said Hla Thein, a representative of the Rakhine state government. “The rest of the 50 boat people are still under investigation.”
The remaining 50 from the first group and more than 700 others found a week later are still in camps in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh, waiting for officials to complete identity verifications.
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, a Rohingya man suspected of human trafficking died in a gunfight between two groups of human traffickers near the border with Myanmar, Agence France-Presse reported.
But a Rohingya community leader in a refugee camp said police shot dead the man, who lived in the camp, while he was in custody on human trafficking charges. That account could not be independently verified.
In another development, two Bangladeshi migrants escaped Friday from a refugee camp in Maungtaw township of Rakhine state, a day before representatives from the Bangladesh embassy visited the camp to verify their identities, said Shwe Than, a Maungtaw district police officer.
He said among the nearly 1,000 boat people in the camps were 187 “Bengalis” who live in Myanmar — a reference to the Myanmar government’s name for ethnic Rohingya Muslims, a stateless people that many of Myanmar’s people say are refugees from Bangladesh.
Most of the remaining migrants are from Bangladesh, he said.
“We didn’t take them into custody,” he said. “They can stay there freely, although security guards are deployed around the camp.”
Migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been boarding boats by the thousands to escape economic hardship and persecution, respectively. But many wound up in the hands of human traffickers who abandoned them at sea in the face of tougher policies in destination countries Thailand and Malaysia.
Migrants are ‘not from Myanmar’
Also on Friday, Khin Aung Myint, speaker of the upper house of Myanmar’s parliament, criticized foreign pressure on his country to accept the boat people during a trip to Australia where he was in Canberra to open a new Myanmar Research Center at Australian National University.
He said that world leaders did not understand the complexities of Myanmar's history, and therefore could not clearly judge the country, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“I want to urge everyone to look at everyone among these boat people,” he said. “They cannot speak the Myanmar language, and they don't look like Myanmar people. When you try to investigate, clearly they are not from Myanmar.
“We're also aware that Australia is not accepting them; likewise, Myanmar cannot accept them.”
In the meantime, Myanmar lawmaker Hla Swe of the ruling Union party submitted a proposal urging the government to adopt a clearer and tougher policy regarding the boat people.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine, Min Thein Aung and Khin Khin Ei of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.