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Myanmar Asylum Seekers Tell Sri Lankan Police 98 Died at Sea

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar asylum seekers rescued by the Sri Lankan navy earlier this week told police that 98 people died during the voyage that began two months ago.

Sri Lanka’s navy rescued 32 Myanmar asylum seekers and placed them in the custody of immigration officials, according to Sri Lankan police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody. The group was heading to Australia, Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor told Australia’s 2UE Radio today.

“According to their version, they said 98 died,” Jayakody said by phone, referring to the asylum seekers. “But we don’t know. We don’t have any evidence for that.”

Thousands of asylum seekers and illegal migrants, searching for a better life, leave Myanmar on boats each year, according to the United Nations. The UN refugee agency has processed about 440,000 refugees and asylum seekers originating from Myanmar as of last year.

Sri Lanka’s navy rescued the group from a sinking wooden ship on Feb. 16, according to a statement on its website. Officers found no dead bodies around the boat, Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya, a navy spokesman, said by phone.

The 31 adult males and one boy went without food for 21 days, according to the statement. Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s navy said it rescued 138 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar from an overcrowded wooden vessel that had begun to sink.

Muslim Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar were among about 200 people missing after two boats sank in the Bay of Bengal in November, according to the UN.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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