Dozens of boat migrants found by Myanmar navy on southern island: State media

Rohingya Muslims speak to relatives from Malaysia in a refugee camp outside Sittwe, on June 2, 2015.
Rohingya Muslims speak to relatives from Malaysia in a refugee camp outside Sittwe, on June 2, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's navy has discovered over a hundred migrants stranded for weeks on a southern island, state media said on Tuesday, in the wake of a regional boat crisis earlier this year.

The group of 102 men were picked up by Myanmar's navy off the coast of the country's southern-most Tanintharyi region, according to a report by the Global New Light of Myanmar.

"Some said they were forcibly taken from their country, while others reported having been enticed by human traffickers to work in Malaysia," said the report, which said all of those found had come from Bangladesh.

It said they had been abandoned on the island in early June and were found between the end of June and July 12.

The report contained no details about where they are currently being held.

Thousands of migrants, most of them Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar or economic migrants from Bangladesh, were stranded in South-east Asian waters in May following a Thai crackdown on people smuggling that led gang bosses to abandon their victims on land and at sea.

The crisis shone a spotlight on the multimillion dollar industry that prays on the desperation of the tens of thousands trying to escape grinding poverty in Bangladesh and persecution in Myanmar.

During the crisis, Myanmar navy boats encountered stricken vessels in the Bay of Bengal crammed with nearly 1,000 migrants who had been abandoned by their gang bosses.

Myanmar insisted the vast majority were Bangladeshi migrants, not Rohingya, and they were taken to camps along the border with its western neighbour.

Neither nation initially showed a willingness to accept them and rights groups are concerned some could be pushed to the wrong side of the border.

Bangladesh has since taken back at least 150 migrants whose nationalities were confirmed, but the rest remain in the border camps, their futures undecided.