DHAKA — A group of 175 migrants who were among hundreds rescued at sea in December en route to South East Asian countries have returned to Bangladesh, an official said Tuesday.
Most were believed to be ethnic Muslim Rohingyas, who had earlier escaped from Myanmar into Bangladesh.
The migrants were heading for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia in four boats when the Indian coastguard picked them up in the Bay of Bengal near the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, where they were held for the past eight months.
They had been promised jobs in the South East Asian countries but did not have the appropriate visas.
After they were rescued by the Indians, the migrants accused the Thai Navy of having earlier found them in Thai waters and seizing their navigation equipment before towing them out to sea with insufficient food and water.
“They are now on their way to Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong districts in southeastern Bangladesh. We are trying to establish whether any of them are Rohingyas,” police superintendent Shakhawat Hossain told AFP.
Monowara Sarker, of the charity Red Crescent which is helping to repatriate the migrants, said at least 150 more remained in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
“The latest group to return home is 175 people and we repatriated 49 in March. We are not sure when the rest will return,” she said.
Indian officials had told AFP that they rescued 446 Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees from four boats.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar denies the Rohingya people any citizenship or property rights, and they face widespread abuse and exploitation.
About 400,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar live in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, according to the Dhaka government, with 28,000 staying in refugee camps where the United Nations provides medical care.