Myanmar's navy seized a boat packed with 727 people off the country's southern coast on Friday, the government said, about a week after it found a similar boat it said carried around 200 Bangladeshi migrants.
The nationality of the people on the boat was unclear. Myanmar Ministry of Information described them as "Bengalis", using the term the government uses to describe the country's persecuted Rohingya minority as well as immigrants from Bangladesh.
A senior official at the ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
More than 3,000 migrants have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift in boats, relief agencies have said.
To address the crisis, a regional meeting was held Friday in Bangkok, Thailand — bringing together 17 countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and elsewhere in Asia, the United States, Switzerland, and the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR.
At the meeting, Myanmar refused to take the blame for the influx of Rohingya migrants.
“You cannot single out my country,” said Htein Lin, director general at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the country’s delegation to the Bangkok meeting.
“In the influx of migration, Myanmar is not the only country,” Lin said, adding that the region was suffering from a human trafficking problem, which Myanmar would cooperate with international efforts to address.
Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya citizens, rendering them effectively stateless, while denying it discriminates against them or that they are fleeing persecution.
Volker Turk, assistant high commissioner for protection at the UNHCR, said the deadly pattern of migration across the Bay of Bengal could only be stopped if Myanmar addressed the root causes.
“This will require assumption of responsibility from Myanmar to all its people,” Turk said. “Granting of citizenship is the ultimate goal.”
Malaysia — which has seen thousands of migrants arrive on its shores in past weeks — said it may host a summit meeting in the coming weeks for leaders from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar.
“This is with a view of finding a workable solution to the crisis at hand,” Ibrahim Abdullah, deputy secretary general at Malaysia’s foreign affairs ministry, told the meeting.