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A boat carrying more than 200 Bangladeshi migrants was intercepted by the Burmese navy off the Arakanese coast on Thursday night, according to the Ministry of Information.
A government report said that a naval patrol spotted a vessel some four nautical miles west of Maungdaw. Upon boarding, officials discovered 208 migrants, who claimed to be from Cox’s Bazaar in southern Bangladesh.
The refugees reportedly said they left from Chittagong and Dhaka last month on a voyage to the Strait of Malacca, but were forced to turn around on 15 May due to the heavy presence of naval patrols in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian waters.
The ship, registered to a Thai national from the port of Ranong, was said to be accompanied by a smaller vessel carrying supplies, whose owner was identified as a Burmese named Ko Khine from Mergui (Myeik) in southern Burma.
The report said the Burmese navy escorted the ship to shore where the migrants were provided temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance at a school in Maungdaw.
International news group Agence France-Presse (AFP) confirmed the report, citing Tin Maung Swe, a senior official in the Arakan regional administration.
“About 200 Bengalis were on one of the boats,” he is quoted as saying. “A navy ship found two boats … on May 21 while on patrol.”
“Bengalis” is a term often used pejoratively in Burma to describe the Muslim Rohingya minority, up to 1.3 million of whom live in the country but are not recognised as citizens.