MISERY: A Rohingya migrant woman stands at the entrance of a living quarters during a visit by US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard at the confinement camp in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Tuesday. (AFP)
YANGON: Myanmar’s navy on Tuesday escorted a boatload of more than 700 migrants toward its western state of Rakhine, authorities said, five days after it was found adrift in the Bay of Bengal.
Around 3,500 migrants, mainly Rohingya from Myanmar or economic migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, have come ashore in Southeast Asia in recent weeks in an ongoing migrant crisis.
Some 2,500 more are believed still trapped at sea, heaping pressure on both countries to take back the migrants and improve living conditions to stem the outflow.
Soon after the boat was found on Friday Myanmar authorities said the 727 passengers onboard were “Bengalis” and threatened to send them across the border.إعلان
Myanmar describes its persecuted Rohingya Muslim community living in the western state of Rakhine and numbering around 1.3 million as “Bengalis.” Most have no citizenship and are considered to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
On Tuesday officials in both Myanmar and Bangladesh said the packed boat was on its way to Rakhine — a frequent upstream departure point for many Rohingya journeys south.
“It’s heading to Rakhine. We heard they were being taken to Maungdaw by the navy but we can’t confirm that,” an unnamed official in Maungdaw, a town in the state, told AFP.
Bangladesh’s Border Guard also said it had been told by its neighbor that the passengers would be taken to Maungdaw.
It is unclear when the boat was due to arrive or what would happen to the passengers once they reached the town, which is separated from Bangladesh by a wide river.
But in a warning to Myanmar, a coast guard official, Captain Shahidul Islam, said Bangladesh would block any attempt to push them across the frontier.