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UN to increase focus on Myanmar's Muslim migrants

The UN refugee agency said it would increase its focus on areas of Myanmar from which Muslim migrants have recently fled.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2009 09:34 IST

The UN refugee agency said it would increase its focus on areas of Myanmar from which Muslim migrants have recently fled.

Thursday's announcement came after High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres' visit to the country, which began on Saturday. The group's plight gained widespread attention earlier this year following reports from the Indian Navy that hundreds were believed to have drowned after being sent out to sea in rickety boats by the Thai military.

Other Rohingyas were detained after landing in Thailand, and more came ashore in Indonesia, fanning regional concern they could become an economic burden.

Both Thailand and Indonesia refused to accept those who landed as refugees, and Myanmar's military government has agreed to accept them back only if they can prove their nationality. Rights groups have also urged against returning them to Myanmar, which they say persecutes minorities. The Rohingyas' status in Myanmar is particularly precarious because they do not hold full citizenship. The UN said in a statement that Guterres traveled to Sittwe, capital of northwestern Rakhine state near the Bangladesh border, where most Rohingya are settled. It said he also visited Myeik, a southeastern port town on the Andaman Sea from which many refugees are believed to have departed.

"On the basis of his observations and the discussions held, the High Commissioner came to the conclusion that UNHCR's current level of activities in northern Rakhine State does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the program with immediate effect," said the agency's statement, issued after Guterres' departure on Thursday night.

It said the agency had agreed with the government "on the importance of a continued presence of UNHCR in northern Rakhine State and the South East."