Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bangladesh accepts 57 boat people

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Burmese Rohingyas under guard in Thailand
The Thai military is accused of sending refugees off to likely death

Bangladesh has accepted that at least 57 illegal migrants who made unsuccessful boat journeys to Thailand and Malaysia are its citizens.

More than 300 people, mostly Rohingya Muslim refugees originally from Burma but now living in Bangladesh, are in a jail in India's Andamans islands.

Thailand is probing reports that troops sent the Rohingyas back to sea in boats without engines and little food.

The Bangladeshi government says it has received a list of migrants from India.


"This will be an ongoing process , so the number of people we agree to take back may go up," Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Touhid Hussain said.


"We know the Indian coastguard rescued a few hundred of these people and will be asking us to check their identity. Those of them found to be Bangladesh nationals will be taken back."

But he said those of them who are Rohingya refugees from Burma and had made the journeys from Bangladesh will not be accepted back.

Mr Hussain said Indian and Bangladeshi officials were now working out the most efficient way to repatriate the migrants.

Those rescued are Rohingya Muslims, originally from Burma's Arakan province but many now settled as refugees in southern Bangladesh. Many have acquired Bangladesh citizenship.

Indian officials say they are slowly compiling the identities of the boatpeople who were rescued off the Andaman coast.

Indian coastguards have rescued more than 300 of the migrants and the Indonesian coastguard has rescued nearly 200 more.

The Thai army has officially denied forcing any of them to return to sea without power or supplies, but survivors say hundreds of migrants are still missing.

"Those who survived want their families to know that they are still alive and that they should not pay any agent any money for their release," an Indian official told the BBC.

Meanwhile the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has demanded access to 126 Rohingyas who are still believed to be in Thai custody.

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