Examine ‘Entire Spectrum’ of Boatpeople Exodus: Bangladeshi Envoy

By Moe Myint 5 June 2015

RANGOON — Bangladesh’s ambassador to Burma has said “both the pull factors and the push factors” must be analyzed to tackle regional human trafficking that has in recent weeks spawned a boat people crisis involving several Southeast Asian nations.

The ambassador, Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, made the remarks on Thursday during a briefing for diplomats and UN agencies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rangoon.

He urged the five nations principally ensnared in the crisis—Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia—to cooperate and look at root causes of the crisis in order to bring about its resolution.

The ambassador said about 150 out of 208 people found on a boat off the coast of Burma’s Arakan State had been identified as Bangladeshis, and pledged to take back all of the “genuine Bangladeshis” among more than 900 people recently rescued off Burma’s coast.

The ambassador seemed to push back, albeit gently, against the notion put forward by Burmese officials in recent weeks that the vast majority of those taking to boats were Bangladeshi.

“I have one observation to make on these numbers, because these numbers are very interesting. We don’t believe that these 200 or 700 conclusively determines the nature, composition of these [boat] people.”

The Burmese and Bangladeshi governments are cooperating to determine the nationality of those found aboard the boats.

Burma’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said 200 would be repatriated to Bangladesh on Sunday, and that authorities would begin the process of determining the nationalities of the 734 people found on the second boat on Saturday.

“We cannot keep them so long in our country,” Wunna Maung Lwin said, adding that the process of identifying the origins of the second group of boat people could take two weeks or longer.

The Burmese government has moved the 734 people to a temporary camp in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, and Sufiur Rahman has made a pledge that his country will take them back if they are found to be from Bangladesh.

Arakan State, which shares a border with Bangladesh, is home to about 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims who are not recognized as citizens. The Burmese government refers to them as “Bengalis,” implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.