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UN to boost focus on Myanmar's Muslim boat people

The UN has agreed with Myanmar to extend its activities in a region from which hundreds of Muslim boat people recently fled, the world body said after its refugee chief toured the military-ruled nation.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (established December 14, 1950) protects and supports refugees at the request of a government or the United Nations and assists in their return or resettlement.  (UNHCR UNHCR n abbr (= United Nations High Commission for Refugees) → ACNUR m

UNHCR n abbr (= United Nations High Commission for Refugees) → HCR m 
), left Myanmar on Thursday after a six-day visit focusing on areas near the Bangladesh border where ethnic minority Rohingya migrants live.

Hundreds of Rohingyas were rescued in Indonesian and Indian waters earlier this year after they fled Myanmar but were then towed out to sea by Thai security forces when they tried to land in the neighbouring kingdom.

Rights groups say scores more are feared to have died.

Guterres "came to the conclusion that UNHCR?s current level of activities in northern Rakhine State Rakhine State (räkēn`), formerly Arakan (ărəkăn`, äräkän`), state (1983 pop. 2,045,891), 14,194 sq mi (36,762 sq km), W Myanmar, extending along the Bay of Bengal.  does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the programme with immediate effect", a UN statement said late Thursday at the end of his visit.

The statement said he visited Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, the region where most Rohingyas live. He also travelled to the port town of Myeik where many of the migrants are thought to have departed.

Guterres later met senior Myanmar officials including the ministers of foreign affairs foreign affairs
Affairs concerning international relations and national interests in foreign countries.
 and of home affairs and immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important.  in the capital Naypyidaw, it said.

"The extension of UNHCR?s programme for the population of northern Rakhine State was agreed, bringing to a positive conclusion discussions that had been taking place with the government in this regard," it added.

The Rohingyas are denied citizenship under the laws of mainly Buddhist Myanmar and rights groups say they face official repression and poverty. Thousands more are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Myanmar's senior official in Hong Kong Hong Kong (hŏng kŏng), Mandarin Xianggang, special administrative region of China, formerly a British crown colony (2005 est. pop. 6,899,000), land area 422 sq mi (1,092 sq km), adjacent to Guangdong prov.  last month described the Rohingya boatpeople as "ugly as ogres" and insisted that they should not be described as being from his country.

The UN had previously expressed concern after photographs apparently showing the Thai army towing migrants in boats out to sea and lining Rohingya men up on a beach were published in the international media this year.

Thailand has denied the accusations, while insisting the problem of illegal migration to its shores must be dealt with regionally.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), organization established by the Bangkok Declaration (1967), linking the nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.  (ASEAN ASEAN: see Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
 in full Association of Southeast Asian Nations

International organization established by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand in
), which includes Myanmar and Thailand, is set to discuss the issue at a regional forum against people-smuggling on April 14-15.
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Publication:AFP Asian Edition
Date:Mar 13, 2009
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