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More trafficking victims run away in Rakhine

By Nyan Lynn Aung
September 8, 2015

Seven people rescued from a human smuggling boat ran away from a temporary shelter ahead of their repatriation to Bangladesh, according to immigration officials.

Migrants sit in the back of a truck as they wait to be repatriated from Myanmar to Bangladesh on June 8. Photo: EPA

The seven were among a group of more than 940 people rescued in May from human smuggling boats abandoned off the coast of Rakhine State and Ayeyarwady Region. The government has been repatriating those rescued in batches. Most recently, 125 Bangladeshis were sent back over the border on August 26 with the cooperation of the Bangladesh government.

“We do not know why they ran away or where they are headed to,” said U Thar Tun Aung from the Rakhine State Immigration Department.

Four ran away on August 26 and another three people left the shelter in Maungdaw on August 28.

“Now there are just 94 Bangladeshis who still need to be repatriated,” U Thar Tun Aung said.

Those rescued may have gotten tired of the tussle, now in its fifth month, between Nay Pyi Taw and Dhaka over the nationality of the rescued group.

With fewer than 100 people left to repatriate, the negotiations again appear to be mired in red tape.

“We are ready to repatriate them to their homeland. But we are just waiting for approval from the Bangladeshi government for repatriation. Once they are accepted, we have to repatriate them immediately,” said U Khin Soe, a senior officer from the Rakhine State Immigration Department.

Under increased pressure from restive nationalist groups in Rakhine that have expressed regret that the government even offered temporary shelter to the “boat people”, Myanmar officials have announced repatriation dateseven before agreements with their counterparts have been fixed.

The Bangladeshi side has made it clear it will not accept anyone with claims to live in Myanmar and has been unusually cautious in its verification process. Advocates fear for the fate of about 30 undocumented refugees born in Bangladesh and accepted by neither of the neighbouring countries.

“We understand that Bangladesh has their own difficulties in the repatriation process because they also need to verify citizenship, even though we have already confirmed that they all are Bengalis,” said U Htin Lin, director general from the foreign affairs ministry.

Ko Phone Lone, a special branch police officer from Rakhine State, said the police are trying their best to find the runaways, but believe they may have slipped across the border. He said they probably grew impatient with the lengthy paperwork checks.

“The area where they are sheltered is very close to Bangladesh – it’s just across the stream from here,” he said.

According to the immigration department, 21 of those rescued in May have so far run away.

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