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Burma says it shares the concerns of the international community about the plight of so-called ‘boat people’ in the Andaman Sea, and “stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered in the sea”.
A Foreign Ministry statement on Tuesday evening said, “Recently, there have been reports by the international media on migrants and boat people in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca. In this connection, Myanmar [Burma] shares concerns expressed by the international community, and is closely following the news.
“Myanmar deeply concerns with the sufferings and life-threatening fate of innocent people as the consequences of human smuggling and illegal migration in the region.
“Against this backdrop, Myanmar is making serious efforts on the prevention of smuggling and illegal migration. One such activity is the regular patrolling in Myanmar territorial water by the Myanmar Navy and Air Force to deter any illegal trespassing in the territory and to provide safety for the trespassers, if any, in the sea. Myanmar stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered in the sea.”
The ministry added that Burmese authorities have been extending “full cooperation” with countries in the region.
The statement comes amid reports that Burma would boycott a regional summit on the issue of boat people, proposed by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan o-cha, and accusations that the Burmese government has exacerbated the situation by persecuting Rohingya Muslims and refuses to acknowledge the one million-strong Muslim community as citizens.
Meanwhile, Burmese state media has reported that immigration authorities have repatriated 11 Bangladeshi refugees who reportedly drifted to shore near Maungdaw in Arakan State after being forced to jump from a boat on which they were traveling.
“Local police, acting on a tip-off, found the refugees taking shelter in a hut at [a] prawn breeding pond on the morning of 17 May,” reported state-run Global New Light of Myanmar. “They were confirmed to be Bangladesh nationals from villages near cities including Dhaka and Chittagong.
“According to their account, they had boarded a ship bound for Malaysia before being told they would be sent back to their homes, as it was impossible to send them to their destination.”
Also on 19 May, a joint statement by UN agencies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on Burma’s southern neighbours – Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand – to offer protection to migrants and boat people sailing from Burma and Bangladesh.
“We, the undersigned, strongly urge the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, to facilitate safe disembarkation, and to give priority to saving lives, protecting rights, and respecting human dignity,” said the statement issued by the heads of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IOM, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration and Development.
“Grave events in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in recent days involving migrants and refugees –Rohingya and others – from Bangladesh and Myanmar confirm that vulnerable people around the world are moving in search of safety and dignity, fleeing persecution, abject poverty, deprivation, discrimination, and abuse. Such perilous journeys, whether by land, sea, or air, have become a global phenomenon.”