Southeast Asia States Agree to Tackle Migrant Crisis as Hundreds More Found at Sea

Thousands of Burma's Muslim Rohingya minority have fled 'apartheid-like' conditions by sea, often through human traffickers.

Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski
A rescued migrant weeps upon arrival Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 20, 2015.
A rescued migrant weeps upon arrival Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 20, 2015.Credit: AP
Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski

REUTERS - Myanmar agreed with a wide-ranging plan to deal with the root causes of Southeast Asia's migrant crisis, a Thai official said on Friday at the conclusion of an international meeting on migration that took place as Myanmar's navy seized a boat packed with 727 people off the country's southern coast.

The incident and meeting took place about a week after the country found a similar boat it claimed carried around 200 'Bangladeshi' migrants part of a migrant influx said to include up to 3,000 people.

The nationality of the people on the boat was unclear. Myanmar's Ministry of Information described them as "Bengalis", using the term the government uses to describe the country's persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority as well as immigrants from Bangladesh.

While some of the migrants are Bangladeshis escaping poverty at home, many are members of the 1.1 million Rohingya minority who live in apartheid-like conditions in the country's Rakhine state. Myanmar does not consider them citizens.

Myanmar insisted it was not to blame for Southeast Asia's latest influx of "boat people" at a regional crisis meeting in Thailand on Friday, as the United States said thousands of vulnerable migrants remained adrift at sea and needed urgent rescue.

However, a statement at the end of the meeting in Bangkok included a paragraph that called for addressing factors in the areas of origin of migrants, including "promoting full respect for human rights" as well as investing in economic development.

"Myanmar agreed to this paper," Norachit Sinhaseni, permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters.

More than 3,000 migrants have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift.

"Myanmar navy is now transporting the boat to its base on Hainggyi Island," said Tun Kyaw Kyaw, the Deputy Director General of the Ayeyarwady Division government, responsible for the area region where navy base is located.

The island is also on Myanmar's southern coast, close to the place where the boat was seized.

"After sending the people to the island, we will investigate them," said Tun Kyaw Kyaw, adding that the examination was necessary to determine their identity.

Pictures posted on the Ministry of Information's Facebook page showed scores of men huddling shoulder-to-shoulder under the sun on the front deck, while uniformed officials - one of them carrying a rifle - stood above. Women could be seen crammed together in the boat's cabins.

The navy found the boat 30 nautical miles off Myanmar's southern coast in the Andaman Sea. The government said there were 608 men, 74 women and 45 children on board.

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