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Myanmar 'boat people' found adrift near Thai resort

PHUKET, Thailand – A boat carrying about 70 asylum-seekers from Myanmar’s beleaguered Rohingya minority has been found adrift in the Andaman Sea off the Thai resort of Phuket. Thai authorities provided it with supplies on Tuesday so it could be sent on its way.

Thai navy, police, health and other officials supplied medicine and food and water to the asylum seekers, along with fuel for the boat so it could continue its journey without landing in Thailand.

Thai policy is to not accept boat people but to aid them in reaching a third country. The passengers include about 10 children.

The exodus of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh, where many are also confined to refugee camps, has become seasonal, peaking in December and January.

Their fate became an international issue in 2008-09, when predominantly Buddhist Thailand towed broken-down boats crammed with refugees back to sea, where they were cast adrift. Hundreds are believed to have died when the boats later sank.

The latest batch of asylum seekers told officials they had been at sea for 13 days and were headed for Malaysia, Thailand’s southern neighbor. Malaysia is seen as a welcoming destination because its own Muslim population is dominant, though it, too, considers the Rohingya undesirable.

On Sunday, about 450 asylum seekers from Myanmar landed in Malaysia after a similar boat journey that left one dead, a man who tried to swim to shore.

It was one of the largest groups of Rohingya this past year to reach Malaysia, where about 25,000 Rohingya are registered with the U.N. refugee agency.

The U.N. estimates the Rohingya population in Myanmar at 800,000, but the government does not recognize them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, and most are denied citizenship.

Rohingya speak a Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, with darker skin than most people in Myanmar. They are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and heavily discriminated against. But Bangladesh also refuses to accept them as citizens.

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