Burma's navy targets waters that have become breeding ground for human traffickers

Boats transporting migrants are regularly being discovered in Burma's waters Credit: ITVNews/AndyRex

The waters around Burma are now marked territory. They've become a breeding ground for human traffickers so are the Burmese Navy's prime target, as they grapple with a humanitarian crisis and their international reputation.

On Friday morning, their navy ships discovered another boat filled with migrants floating off the country's coastline. This time, 727 people were onboard, 608 men, 74 women and 45 children.

ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson reports:

Their boat was escorted close to Higyi Kyun island, near the Irrawaddy Delta. A remote area of jungle, wild elephants, farmland and paddy fields where we travelled to at first light on Saturday.

Hundreds of people were found onboard the migrant boat Credit: ITVNews/AndyRex

We were told that the migrants were being brought ashore to the island's navy base & that we were allowed access to it. That never happened. When we arrived, the boat was still miles out a sea, just floating, and being guarded by two warships, with no sign it would come inland.

A local fisherman agreed to take us to it in his boat but within 30 minutes of being in the rough waters the Burmese military forced us to return. No foreign media was going to be allowed near these boats.

Burma's military stopped the boat Lucy was travelling on from getting near the migrant boat. Credit: ITVNews/AndyRex

The authorities told us that all passengers onboard are Bengalis, which makes it impossible to know if they're from Burma or Bangladesh because Bengali is the 'catch all' term for both Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Burma. Burma doesn't recognise and refuses to use the word Rohingya. It sees the minority as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh but most have lived here for centuries. The resentment of the Rohingya within this country is deeply entrenched.

Women and children were found onboard the migrant boat Credit: ITVNews/AndyRex

What will happen to this latest group of migrants, where will they be taken next, how long will they have to stay at sea being passed just rice to eat? Nobody has those answers except the Burmese government. It says it doesn't want to be singled out for this refugee crisis, that its policies towards Rohingyas come under domestic jurisdiction and outsiders are misinformed, yet it won't let us close to the operations they're involved with to tell the truth.

Asia's migrant crisis with its mass graves, human trafficking camps and malnourished & starving men, women & children adrift in the regions' seas continue to horrify. The images are shedding light on the lengths that marginalised communities will go to in pursuit of basic human rights.

These are human beings who are victims deserving of compassion. All they aspire to are basic freedoms to stabilise their lives. All they want is to uphold their dignity, a dignity they're being denied.