A refugee from Bangladesh, who was rescued by the Myanmar navy, at a Muslim religious school used as a temporary refugee camp in Myanmar. Photo: Reuters
Bangladesh has slammed thousands of starving migrants and asylum seekers stranded at sea, calling them “mentally sick” and accusing them of damaging the country’s image.
“Side by side with the middlemen, punishment will have to be given to those who are moving from the country in an illegal way … they are tainting the image of the country along with pushing their life into danger,” prime minister Sheikh Hasina said in comments reported by the state-run Bangladesh news agency.
Ms Hasina said the boat people were “mentally sick” for fleeing in search of jobs, adding “they could have better lives in Bangladesh.”
Men from Bangladesh, rescued by the Myanmar navy together.. Photo: Reuters
Images of distressed Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people have prompted outrage across the world as regional countries prepare to attend a Thailand-hosted 17-nation summit on Friday to discuss what has become a humanitarian crisis across the Bay of Bengal and in South-East Asian waters.
Up to 6000 people could still be adrift in boats after Indonesia and Malaysia last week reversed policies to push boats back out to sea.
Malaysia admitted on Sunday it had found a series of mass graves in a remote area at its border with Thailand that are believed to contain hundreds of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis, despite earlier denials any existed.
Rescued by the Myanmar navy: Images of Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people have prompted international outrage. Photo: Reuters
Graves found in both Thailand and Malaysia are believed to contain the bodies of victims of human traffickers who held them ransom while trying to extort money from their relatives.
An estimated 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants and asylum-seekers fled Myanmar and Bangladesh in the first three months of this year, part of the largest movement of people across south-east Asia since the fall of southern Vietnam 40 years ago.
Since taking office in 2009 Ms Hasina has taken a hardline against Rohingya Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar who have been described by the United Nations as among the world’s most persecuted people.
Prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina has accused asylum seekers of “tainting the image of the country”. Photo: Bangladeshi Embassy
In 2012 she refused to allow Rohingyas fleeing Buddhist mob violence in Myanmar’s western Arakan state to reach safety in Bangladesh.
Ms Hasina, in comments to senior labour and employment officials, called on her government agencies to crack down on human trafficking.
“You have to conduct … campaigns so migrants do not give money to brokers for going abroad in illegal ways, they are falling into a trap,” she said, adding the boat people are “tainting Bangladesh’s image in the international arena”.
Mimi, a Rohingya mother from Myanmar and her daughter Asma rest at a confinement area in Langsa port, Aceh province. Photo: AFP
Pope Francis has joined many world leaders in calling on countries to help boat people facing “severe suffering and danger”.
The United States has offered to help set up temporary camps for thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis who are either still at sea or have made it ashore in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in recent days.
But Thailand’s military rulers have said they will only agree to set-up “temporary holding areas” because of fears that boat people will remain in Thailand for years.
The crisis was precipitated by a crackdown on human traffickers and their corrupt accomplices in Thailand which caused traffickers to abandon their human cargo on overloaded boats on the open sea.
Human rights groups have condemned what they describe as further persecution of Rohingya by Myanmar’s military dominated government which has passed a law allowing the country’s regional governments to introduce family planning regulations to reduce birth rates in their states.
“This will seriously worsen ethnic and religious tensions. We fully expect the Muslim Rohingya in (Arakan) state will be target number one of this legislation,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Myanmar refuses to give 1.3 million Rohingya citizenship rights despite having lived in the country for centuries.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya are living in squat camps after being forced from their homes by Buddhist mobs.
Malaysia’s Home Minister Zahid Hamidi has told reporters he expects more graves and people-smuggler camps will be found in Malaysia’s border areas.
“We are still investigating but I suspect they have been operating for at least five years,” he said.
Malaysian media has reported that one of 30 graves found by Malaysian authorities contained 100 bodies.
Malaysia has for years quietly allowed tens of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis who arrived in the country without documentation to work as cheap labour.
Malaysia has been the destination of choice for the people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh…