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Myanmar navy finds 102 stranded Bangladesh migrants on island: state media

Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, arrive at Mee Tike temporary refugee camp located near the Bangladesh border fence at Rakhine state on June 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO / YE AUNG THU

By  Tim McLaughlin and Aung Hla Tun
July 14, 2015

Bangkok -- Myanmar's navy has discovered more than 100 Bangladeshi migrants stranded for nearly a month on a southern island, state media said on Tuesday, following a regional migrant crisis in which people smugglers abandoned thousands at sea.

It was the first major rescue reported by Myanmar since May, when its navy found a boat packed with more than 700 migrants in the Andaman Sea at the height of Southeast Asia's migrant boat crisis.

The crisis blew up after a crackdown by Thailand on trafficking camps along its border with Malaysia made conditions too risky for people smugglers to land their human cargo, so they simply set them adrift.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said the most recent group of 102 migrants was found late in June, after spending nearly a month on the island in Taninthayi, the southernmost region of Myanmar bordering Thailand.

The migrants, all men, were rescued between June 30 and July 12 and hailed from neighboring Bangladesh, the paper said. They had been left on the island in early June.

"The navy is searching the areas and the victims will be sent back to their home country," it added, but gave no details of where the men were being held.

Officials at the Bangladesh embassy in Yangon said the Myanmar government had not contacted them about the migrants.

"We have just received the news from the media," Tareque Mohammed, the deputy chief of mission, told Reuters. "We have received no confirmation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

The military-owned Myawaddy newspaper said officials in Myanmar found a man on June 30 around two miles off the coast of Saung Gauk Island, prompting a search of the island early in July, which led to the discovery of the rest.

It said the men had left Bangladesh after being persuaded they could earn more abroad and that those who refused were forced aboard a vessel.

They were among the thousands, many Bangladeshi or Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, who ended up in dangerously crowded boats run by people-traffickers, heading for other southeast Asian countries.

Previously, Myanmar has said nearly all the migrants were Bangladeshis seeking better economic prospects, rather than Rohingya, a group who complain of severe discrimination and mistreatment at home.

Most of the castaways landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar, their passengers sick and thirsty. At least 1,200 remained adrift, the United Nations said in a report on June 16.

(Additional reporting by Hnin Yadana Zaw; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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