Myanmar says 'ready to provide humanitarian help to boat migrants'

Update: May, 20/2015 - 11:12

YANGON – Myanmar said on Wednesday it was "ready to provide humanitarian assistance" to boatpeople, in its most conciliatory comments yet as several Southeast Asian neighbours meet to discuss the boat crisis gripping the region.

A foreign ministry statement in state media said Myanmar "shares concerns" of the international community and was "ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered in the sea", after the UN warned thousands of migrants –including from the Rohingya minority – were stranded off its coast.

Nearly 3,000 Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi migrants have made it ashore in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in recent days after being abandoned by smugglers in open waters.

Thousands more victims are believed to be stranded at sea with scant food or water.

On Tuesday the United Nations' refugee agency the UNHCR warned that some 2,000 people, including women and children, have been trapped on boats off Myanmar's western Rakhine state coast for more than 40 days, with reports of violence, hunger and dehydration.

The boats are believed to be packed with Rohingya and Bangladeshis who have yet to sail southwards through the Andaman Sea because of a crackdown on the lucrative people smuggling trade that has seen Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia refuse to accept the vessels.

The United Nations and United States have led international calls for Southeast Asian nations to open their ports to the boats rather than just giving food and water and pushing them back to sea. -- AFP