Myanmar's navy discovered the boat with 727 migrants off the country's southern coast on Friday, but have since been tight-lipped on the identity of those on board, as well as their fate. Thousands of migrants, many of them Rohingya refugees, are adrift on boats abandoned by traffickers after a recent crackdown in Thailand.
Sunday 31 May 2015

A boat packed with more than 700 "boat people" seized off Myanmar's coast was stopped on a small island on Saturday, as officials gave mixed signals about its final destination.

Myanmar's navy discovered the boat with 727 migrants off the country's southern coast on Friday, but have since been tight-lipped on the identity of those on board, as well as their fate.

Myo Win, the township administrator of Hainggyi Island, in the country's south, told Reuters the boat was taken to nearby Leik Island and the migrants were kept on board while they were provided with food, water and medical help. 

"The boat won't rest at Leik Island tonight... I heard they will be taken to Sittwe or Maungdaw (in Myanmar's Rakhine State), to then be sent to Bangladesh."

Those on board told officials they had been at sea in three boats since March, during which at least 50 migrants died.

Officials had on Friday initially labeled those on the boat "Bengalis" - a term used to refer both to stateless Rohingya from Rakhine state, as well as Bangladeshis. The government later said most of those on board are believed to be from Bangladesh.

The government had initially said it would take the migrants to a navy base on Hainggyi Island, but have since reconsidered their destination, Commander Soe Min, an assistant to Myanmar's navy chief, told Reuters.

"The navy may take them somewhere further north, such as Sittwe in Rakhine State. We're not even sure yet," Soe Min said.

The discovery of the boat on Friday came as Myanmar told a 17-nation meeting in Thailand that it was not to blame for the crisis that has seen more than 4,000 desperate Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi migrants take to the seas across Southeast Asia in the last month.

An additional 2,000 people are believed still adrift after being abandoned by traffickers following a crackdown in Thailand. 

The boat was found in the Andaman Sea on Friday with 608 women, 74 women and 45 children on board, according to Myanmar's Ministry of Information.

Those on board told officials they had been at sea in three boats since March, during which at least 50 migrants died, the ministry said on its website. The passengers were later abandoned in one boat by traffickers, it said. 

Myanmar has come under heavy criticism for discrimination against the Rohingya. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions.

Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine State in 2012.

Saturday 30 May 2015
Myanmar's navy has seized a boat packed with 727 people off the country's southern coast.
Myanmar's navy seized a boat packed with 727 people off the country's southern coast on Friday, the government said, about a week after it found a similar vessel it said carried around 200 Bangladeshi migrants.Most of those on board...

Myanmar released the results of its first nationwide census in 30 years on Friday, but the survey excluded the country's Muslim Rohingya minority, who complain of deep state-sanctioned discrimination.

Most of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in the western state of Rakhine. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012.

Delegates from Southeast Asian countries were gathered in the Thai capital on Friday for talks on the "boat people"crisis.

Thousands of migrants, many of them Rohingya, are adrift on boats abandoned by traffickers after a recent crackdown in Thailand. Myanmar said it could not be held responsible.

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Friday 29 May 2015

Aust urges regional asylum solution

Australia is ready to boost aid to Southeast Asia in response to its asylum seeker crisis, says a senior immigration official.
Australia is calling on Southeast Asia to achieve a sustainable solution to the region's asylum seeker crisis, especially in Myanmar where thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled poverty and persecution.Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio...

More than 2,500 migrants could still be stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, according to estimates by the United Nations, as Thailand prepares to host a regional meeting it said was focused on "immediate action" to tackle the crisis.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and migrants from Bangladesh have tried to land in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia since a Thai crackdown on people smugglers in early May led to trafficker crews abandoning them at sea.

Regional governments have struggled to respond, although images of desperate people crammed aboard overloaded boats with little food or water prompted Indonesia and Malaysia to soften their initial reluctance to allow the migrants to come ashore.

More than seven boats carrying around 2,600 people are thought to be still at sea, according to data from UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) sources.

Read more here.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Malaysian police forensic teams, digging with hoes and shovels, on Tuesday began pulling out bodies from shallow graves found in abandoned jungle camps where an inter-governmental body said hundreds of victims of human traffickers may be buried.

The Malaysian government said it was investigating whether local forestry officials were involved with the people-smuggling gangs believed responsible for nearly 140 such graves discovered around grim camps along the border with Thailand.

Members of Royal Malaysia Police forensic inspect a grave found at Wang Burma hills at Wang Kelian, Perlis, Malaysia, 26 May 2015. (EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL)

The dense forests of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major stop-off point for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, and Bangladesh.  

"Hundreds more [bodies] will be found in the days to come"

Authorities took a group of journalists to one of the camps, nestled in a gully in thick jungle up a steep, well-worn path about an hour's walk from the nearest road, where a Reuters witness saw the first body removed on Tuesday afternoon.

Extent of trafficking continues to grow: 

Malaysian police said on Monday they had found 139 graves, some containing more than one body, around 28 camps scattered along a 50-km (30-mile) stretch of the border in the northern state of Perlis.

Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told a news briefing in Geneva that the body's representative in the region "predicts hundreds more [bodies] will be found in the days to come".

Thai crackdown

The grisly discoveries in Malaysia followed the uncovering of similar graves on the Thai side of the border at the beginning of May, which helped trigger a regional crisis. The find led to a crackdown on the camps by Thai authorities, after which traffickers abandoned thousands of migrants in overloaded boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

"If an individual's family did not pay, those staying long in the camps were tortured, beaten and deprived of food"

"We don't know if there is a link between the Thai camps and  Malaysia camps," Phuttichart Ekachan, deputy chief of Thailand's Provincial Police Region 9, told Reuters.

"It is possible that because of the Thai crackdown some of the camps moved and some of them (migrants) then walked over or escaped to the Thai side. It is possible but it isn't something we have been able to confirm."

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand each year, and in recent years it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the  border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom.

The IOM's Millman said the largest camp was believed to have had a capacity of up to 1,000 people.

"If an individual's family did not pay, those staying long in the camps were tortured, beaten and deprived of food," he said.

 "Shocked by the cruelty" 

State news agency Bernama quoted Malaysia's police chief, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, as saying that the camps were thought to have been occupied since 2013, and two were "only abandoned between two and three weeks ago".

Khalid told reporters on Monday that police had been "shocked by the cruelty" of the camps, where he said there were signs of torture.  

On Tuesday, the United States said a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft began conducting maritime surveillance flights at the weekend to locate and mark the positions of boats that could be carrying migrants.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told a news briefing that the flights were made possible by the support of the Malaysian government and the United States was ready to conduct additional flights as necessary to help provide support to regional governments.

Malaysian PM pleads for international support over migrant grave discovery: 

Tuesday 26 May 2015

A Senate hearing has been told just 412 people identifying as Rohingya have been granted humanitarian visas by Australia since 2008.

Australia has resettled just over 400 Rohingya in the past seven years, it has been confirmed, amid calls for the international community to do more to help address Southeast Asia's refugee crisis.

As thousands of the minority group continue to flee persecution in Myanmar, a Senate hearing in Canberra has been told 412 people identifying as Rohingya had been granted humanitarian visas through the United Nations process since 2008.

Vietnamese asylum seekers 'detained at sea for month'
The Operation Sovereign Borders commander insists 46 asylum seekers detained at sea for a month had access to appropriate medical care and food.

Asylum seeker children spending up to five years in detention, parliamentary hearing told: 

Immigration and Border Protection Department deputy secretary Rachel Noble told the hearing on Tuesday she was unable to immediately confirm if any had been resettled under the Abbott government.

Another 1940 Rohingya had arrived in Australia by boat since 2009, Ms Noble said.

More than 3500 boat people have arrived in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in the past two weeks, while thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis are believed to be stranded at sea.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told AAP on Monday that among more than 1700 who had come ashore in Indonesia, about 50 per cent were Rohingya.

In Tokyo on Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged other countries to do more to address the crisis, saying it requires "an international solution".

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand eventually agreed to provide the Rohingya asylum seekers temporary shelter, while the US, Philippines and Gambia have offered resettlement.

Australia has been criticised for not doing enough, with the Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network describing the response as a "blot on human rights".

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has rejected the criticism, saying on Monday that Australia was doing "more than its fair share" to help find a regional settlement arrangement.

The Senate hearing was also told that in the year to April 30, a total of 1771 Syrians had been granted visas, but not all had yet entered the country.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has committed to resettling 4400 Syrians fleeing war in the Middle East, with 2200 places to be allocated in 2014-15.

In the past year, Australia has resettled 1886 refugees from Iraq, 1741 from Afghanistan, 1662 from Myanmar and 346 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is expected the government will reach its overall target of resettling 13,750 refugees by June 30.

Malaysia's police chief said on Monday that 139 graves believed to contain the remains of migrants were found near the country's border with Thailand, and that some graves contained more than one body.
Malaysia has found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand, the country's police chief said on Monday. ...