DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 25 (UPI) -- The Bangladeshi prime minister criticized immigrants leaving Bangladesh by boat, calling them fortune seekers spoiling the country's image.
Addressing labor and employment officials Sunday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the exodus of people, by the tens of thousands, from Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have made the immigrants "mentally sick."
Images of refugees, fleeing poverty and oppression in overcrowded boats, have prompted worldwide condemnation and concern over a humanitarian disaster. Many of the immigrants are Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority facing persecution on the Asian mainland.
"I think such an unlawful trend may be stopped if the fortune-seekers, who are going to abroad illegally, are punished side by side with the middlemen," Hasina said, a reference to human traffickers who are paid by refugees to smuggle them to other countries. "They are tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger. There is sufficient work for them (the refugees). Still they are leaving the country in such disastrous ways."
The United Nations estimates 120,000 Rohingya have escaped in the past three years.