Migrants trapped in tussle between Myanmar and Bangladesh

MAUNGDAW, Myanmar (AFP) - Unwanted by Bangladesh and unwelcome in Myanmar, hundreds of stick-thin migrants found adrift at sea as a transnational trafficking route collapsed are now living in tents on a frontier scrubland.

After weeks crammed together on a boat bound for Malaysia - a treacherous journey many braved to flee persecution or poverty - they are back near to where they began.

Since South-east Asia's migrant crisis erupted more than a month ago, 4,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been washed ashore, and the UN estimates that around 2,000 others are still trapped at sea.

Myanmar found the boat of 733 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis - the majority men but also including women and children - abandoned by people-smugglers late last month, and eventually allowed them to disembark in its western Rakhine state on Wednesday.

The would-be migrants were then driven to camps in a remote region near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, where an earlier boatload of 200 men was already being held, to wait in limbo as authorities wrangle over which country they belong to.

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

Arriving at one of the camps, the men bathed for the first time in days and received urgent medical treatment, some attached to IV drips, as Myanmar immigration officials noted down names, ages and addresses of migrants now at the heart of a diplomatic tussle with Bangladesh.

"I want to go back to Bangladesh. I'm praying to God to be able to go back home quickly," said 20-year-old Shophikuu from Chittagong in Bangladesh, who, like many others, boarded the boat in the hope of earning a better living in Malaysia.

Nishok, 24, is also desperate to get back to his family, saying he was forced to leave at gunpoint.

"A broker asked me whether I would like to go to Malaysia. When I refused to go, he pointed his gun at me and took me to the boat," he told AFP of the moment he was cornered by traffickers in Cox's Bazar, an impoverished coastal region in Bangladesh where around 300,000 Rohingya refugees eke out a life alongside poor Bangladeshis.

There have been previous reports of migrants being forced to make the dangerous journey south as brokers can earn hefty sums in the lucrative trade by demanding their relatives pay release fees of around US$2,000 as well as selling victims on to businesses in Malaysia.

Recalling the hardships of the journey, where migrants were given only one scant meal a day, Nishok spoke of his parents: "I miss my mum and dad so much. I really want to see them."

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