Burma Deports 150 Boat People, Hundreds Soon to Follow

By Min Aung Khine 8 June 2015

SITTWE, Arakan State — A total of 150 migrants were deported to Bangladesh on Monday afternoon, local officials told The Irrawaddy, while nearly 600 others await the same fate in camps and detention centers near the border.

“At 3 pm today, we deported them in six cars,” Arakan State Chief Immigration Officer Khin Soe told The Irrawaddy. Another 50 are set to depart within the next few days.

The migrants, determined to have come from Bangladesh before being intercepted by the Burma Navy, were among more than 900 “boat people” to surface along Burma’s shores in recent weeks.

Migrants from Bangladesh and refugees from Burma’s Arakan State have been boarding boats in droves to seek work or refuge in neighboring countries, many ending up in the hands of human traffickers.

Those who fled from Burma are predominantly Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority that largely lives in apartheid-like conditions since deadly inter-communal violence erupted in the coastal state in 2012.

A Thai crackdown on the trade last month left thousands stranded at sea as traffickers abandoned their human cargo, leading to a regional crisis that has directly affected Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and Bangladesh.

On May 21, the Burma Navy discovered a boat in the Bay of Bengal carrying 208 migrants, 200 of them were determined to be Bangladeshi and sent to Taung Pyo Let Wai village in Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township, on the border with Bangladesh.

Another boat, crammed with 733 people, was found on May 29 off the coast of Irrawaddy Division. The boat was held offshore for several days before being towed to Maungdaw, where passengers were transferred to border holding facilities and scrutinized to determine their origins.

Local immigration officials told The Irrawaddy that 546 were found to be Bangladeshi and will be deported “soonest.” The remaining 187 passengers, including 43 children and 62 women, were found to be from Burma.

“It is true that Bengalis from Myanmar [Burma] are among them and the rest are from Bangladesh. We are scrutinizing them and will transfer them to Bangladesh soonest,” said Arakan State immigration officer Khin Soe.

The official referred to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” the preferred term of the government, which denies them citizenship and views them as illegal immigrants.

Civil society groups in Maungdaw issued a public statement upon the migrants’ arrival on June 3 that they would not accept the boat people, warning that locals would protest against the government and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, if the issue was not swiftly resolved.