Myanmar authorities lured dozens of mainly Buddhist Bangladeshi tribal families to resettle on land abandoned by persecuted Rohingya Muslims.
Local officials said on Monday that the families were being “lured by Myanmar” to Rakhine state where they were given free land, citizenship and free food for five years, presstv reported.
“They are going there to fill up the land vacated by the Rohingya who have left Burma (Myanmar). They are extremely poor,” media outlets quoted local councilor Muing Swi Thwee as saying.
He noted that about 50 families from remote hill and forest areas on the Bangladesh side had crossed the border and moved to Rakhine in recent weeks.
He said that 22 families had departed from their villages in the Sangu forest reserve last month.
Bangladeshi government officials in the region also confirmed the migration, saying up to 55 tribal families had left for Myanmar.
“They are being lured by some people in Myanmar in return for free homes, free food for five-seven years. Some families have shifted there after being attracted by these offers,” Jahangir Alam, a government district administrator, stated.
He went on to say that some of the tribal groups had family in Rakhine and these relatives were being used to woo the Bangladeshi tribes.
“These people have religious and linguistic similarities with Myanmar. Some of their ancestors have settled there in the past,” Alam stressed.
Al-Kaiser, another Bangladeshi official, pointed out that a tribal man was killed and several family members were injured in a mine blast when they were crossing into Myanmar from the town of Ali Kadam.
An unnamed Bangladeshi official said they suspected political motives behind the migration.
“We think perhaps they (Myanmar) want to make some news using these people, that Buddhists are being tortured and repressed in Bangladesh and that’s why they have left the country,” the official stated.
In a separate development on Monday, Bangladeshi police in Cox’s Bazar district where the Rohingya camps are located said they were investigating after a boat moored at a Thai island with dozens of Rohingya aboard.
“The boat didn’t leave from Bangladesh,” Afrujul Haq Tutul, deputy police chief noted, adding that “But, in light of the news, we are investigating this matter.”
Coast guard Spokesman Abdullah al-Maruf said it was “impossible” that a captain would be able to evade patrols, which have been stepped up in recent months.
“They (boats) are not allowed to go out. It would be very hard to sneak out of our coastal patrol. I don’t think these people sailed away from here,” he stressed.
The boat, en route to Malaysia where there is a sizeable Rohingya community, stopped at an island off the West coast of Thailand early Sunday due to bad weather.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement late last year to repatriate about 800,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have crossed the border since August to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.
The repatriation was delayed due to a lack of preparation as well as protests staged by Rohingya refugees against the plan to send them back to Myanmar while conditions were not safe for their return.
Myanmar’s government troops have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out arson attacks in Muslim villages in Rakhine over the past months.
The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations but are denied citizenship and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.
The UN has also described the 1.1-million-strong Muslim community as the most persecuted minority in the world.