Five days after it was discovered adrift in the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar’s navy today escorted a boat carrying more than 700 migrants towards its western state of Rakhine, according to authorities in YANGON. In recent weeks, approximately 3,500 migrants, primarily Rohingya from Myanmar or economic migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, have arrived in Southeast Asia as part of a continuing migrant crisis. Approximately 2,500 additional migrants are believed to still be adrift at sea, increasing the pressure on both countries to return the migrants and improve living conditions to stem the outflow. As soon as the boat was discovered on Friday, Myanmar authorities identified the 727 passengers as “Bengalis” and threatened to deport them. Myanmar refers to the approximately 1.3 million persecuted Rohingya Muslims residing in the western state of Rakhine as “Bengalis.” Most have no citizenship and are considered Bangladeshi irregular immigrants. Tuesday, officials in both Myanmar and Bangladesh reported that the crowded boat was en route to Rakhine, a frequent upstream departure point for Rohingya traveling south. We heard they were transported to Maungdaw by the navy, but we cannot corroborate that,” an unnamed official in the state’s Maungdaw town told AFP. The Bangladesh Border Guard also reported that its neighbor informed them that the passengers would be transported to Maungdaw. It is unknown when the boat was expected to arrive or what would happen once the passengers reached the town, which is separated from Bangladesh by a wide river. A coast guard official, Captain Shahidul Islam, warned Myanmar that Bangladesh would resist any attempt to force them across the border. “This vessel carrying migrants is being transferred through Myanmar waters to Maungdaw,” he said. The Rohingya depart Rakhine annually to avoid persecution and destitution in a region where their movements are restricted and they lack access to employment and essential services. After 2012, when dozens were slain in communal bloodletting involving Buddhist nationalists in the state, the exodus increased dramatically. Since the violence, tens of thousands have languished in displacement centers in Rakhine. An estimated 300,000 more exiles eke out a livelihood in the impoverished coastal region of neighboring Bangladesh, but less than one-tenth of them are officially recognized as refugees. The status of the Rohingya is an explosive issue in Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism is on the rise. However, the country has been under increasing pressure from the international community to grant them citizenship rights.
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