Sittwe, May 22: Myanmar's navy has carried out its first rescue of a migrant boat, bringing 208 people to shore, an official said today, as it faced mounting international pressure to tackle a regional migration crisis.
"A navy ship found two boats... on May 21 while on patrol," Tin Maung Swe, a senior official in the western state of Rakhine told AFP, adding "about 200 Bengalis were on one of the boats".
"Bengalis" is a term often used pejoratively by Myanmar officials to describe the Muslim Rohingya minority, 1.3 million of whom live in the country but are not recognised as citizens. The widespread persecution of the impoverished community in Rakhine state is one of the primary causes for the current regional exodus, alongside growing numbers trying to escape poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The Thai-owned boat was guided to shore before dawn on Friday in Maungdaw township -- the departure point for many Rohingya boats headed south through the Bay of Bengal.
Photographs on the Ministry of Information's Facebook page showed scores of bare-chested men crammed into the hull of a wooden fishing vessel as it made land.
The second vessel was empty, Tin Maung Swe said. "Necessary medical healthcare and foods have been provided" to the passengers at a temporary camp in Maungdaw, he said.
"All of the 208 on board are from Bangladesh," he added, repeating Myanmar's official line that the migrants are from over the border.
On Thursday the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia -- whose countries are destination points for Rohingya fleeing persecution -- met Myanmar officials as pressures mount to stem the migrant exodus from its shores.
Earlier this week, Malaysia and Indonesia relented on a hardline policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies. A US team led by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also in Naypyidaw for talks with Myanmar's President Thein Sein.