700 rescued to be taken to Rakhine
More than 700 migrants found crammed into a fishing boat by Myanmar's navy will be taken to the country's troubled Rakhine state, a local official said yesterday, adding all those on board were from Bangladesh.
A total of 727 people, including 74 women and 45 children, were discovered in the hull of a vessel on Friday morning in the Irrawaddy delta region with state media reporting that 50 passengers had perished before they were rescued.
It is the latest boat to have been discovered as the region battles a migrant crisis that has erupted since the start of May, leaving around 3,500 people on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesia soil and an estimated 2,500 more stranded at sea.
The majority of those fleeing to the three countries are persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar's western Rakhine state or people escaping poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh.
A local official said the group discovered Friday had been taken to Thamee Hla Island in the Irrawaddy delta region by the navy, ahead of their transfer to Rakhine.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group and officials routinely refer to them as "Bengalis" from across the border.
"They will be taken to Rakhine State near Bangladesh tomorrow or the day after," Myo Win, a local official from Haigyi Island, which is close to where the navy towed the boat on Saturday, told AFP.
"As these people came from Bangladesh, we will take them back to Rakhine State because it's close (to the border)," he added, referring to the western state.
Earlier this month Myanmar's navy found more than 200 bare-chested men in the hull of a wooden, Thai-registered fishing vessel.
Myanmar insisted all but eight of those found on that boat were Bangladeshi nationals and vowed to deport them there.
A Thai national who allegedly owned a boat that was recently discovered by the Myanmar navy crammed with more than 200 migrants has been arrested, state media said Saturday.
The 53-year-old man was detained in the country's biggest city Yangon, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported, adding that his capture was made after authorities exchanged "information with Thai police".
"He was said to have contacted human trafficking gangs in Bangladesh and trafficked people into Thailand and Malaysia," the paper said.