RANGOON — Burma repatriated 48 Bangladeshi nationals on Wednesday, bringing the total number of “boat people” returned to the country’s western neighbor since May to 777, according to state-run media.
In May and June, thousands of people from Bangladesh and Burma’s Arakan State boarded rickety boats in search of work or refuge abroad, with many ending up in the hands of human traffickers.
A Thai crackdown on the unscrupulous trade spooked many traffickers who abandoned their human cargo, leading to a regional crisis as countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand initially baulked on accepting those stranded at sea.
Among those seeking sanctuary abroad were Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority that largely lives in apartheid-like conditions since deadly violence erupted in Arakan State in 2012.
Tareque Muhammad, Minister & Deputy Chief of Mission of the Bangladeshi Embassy in Rangoon, provided slightly different repatriation figures to those carried in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Thursday.
He told The Irrawaddy that 781 verified Bangladeshi citizens had been repatriated in several batches since June and confirmed that the repatriation process had now concluded. However, Khin Maung Lwin, a Maungdaw district administrator, said 28 people still remained to be deported to Bangladesh.
The Burmese government initially claimed that 853 migrants were from Bangladesh, according to Tareque Muhammad, but Bangladeshi authorities tallied 799. The remaining 18 nationals verified by Bangladesh had either fled from the camp in Maungdaw Township to an unknown location or had made their own way back across the Burma-Bangladesh border, he said.
Arakan State information department director Hla Thein could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
In late May, a conference was convened in Bangkok to address the “boat people” crisis, attended by regional delegates, US and Japanese officials, as well as United Nations and International Organization for Migration (IOM) representatives. A follow-up to that meeting will convene in Bangkok on Friday.