Most migrants at sea not Rohingya: Australia

2015-05-23 15:21
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Sydney - Indonesia has told Australia that most of the migrants stranded at sea in Southeast Asia are illegal labourers from Bangladesh, not oppressed Muslim Rohingya, said foreign minister Julie Bishop on Saturday.

More than 3 500 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking in early May threw the illicit trade into chaos.

Seeking jobs

Speaking to The Weekend Australian newspaper, Bishop said Indonesia estimated that only 30-40% of the thousands still stranded at sea were Rohingya - an impoverished Muslim community from Myanmar's western Rakhine state.

"They (Indonesia) believe there are about 7 000 people at sea [and] they think about 30-40% are Rohingya, the rest are Bangladeshi; and they are not, in Indonesia's words, asylum-seekers, they are not refugees - they are illegal labourers. They've been promised or are seeking jobs in Malaysia," Bishop said.

"They said the Rohingya have gone to Bangladesh and have mixed up with the Bangladeshis who are coming to Malaysia in particular for jobs."

Bishop said that Indonesia's director-general of multilateral affairs, Hasan Kleib, had told her that on one vessel, Bangladeshis accounted for 400 of the 600 people on board.

Turns back vessels

Myanmar has faced increasing international pressure to stem the exodus from its shores and deliver urgent humanitarian relief to thousands still trapped at sea.

It said on Friday its navy had rescued a boat in the Bay of Bengal and brought 208 people to shore.

Australia, which maintains a hardline policy of denying asylum-seekers who arrive by boats resettlement and which turns back vessels when it can, has maintained its refusal to resettle any stranded boat people, saying to do so would encourage people-smuggling.
Read more on:    indonesia  |  bangladesh  |  australia  |  migrants

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