Dhaka, May 25 (IANS/EFE) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for strict punishment to migrants, who illegally leave Bangladesh and set out towards Southeast Asia by sea, and the human-traffickers who assist them, media reported on Monday.
"They are tainting the image of our country on the international stage, and putting their own lives in danger," Hasina told a meeting with senior officials of the labour and employment ministry on Sunday, according to reports by national news agencies.
"I think such an unlawful trend might be stopped if the fortune-seekers who are leaving the country illegally are punished side-by-side with the middlemen," she said.
Hasina directed the ministry to conduct public information campaigns targeting potential illegal immigrants, "so they don't feel the need to give money to the middlemen to go abroad illegally seeking work, so they don't fall into this trap".
The Bangladeshi prime minister claimed that her government has implemented several initiatives to improve the well-being of potential illegal immigrants and regretted that, despite this, some still opt for an "uncertain journey".
"Why are they going? It is not correct that all of them are doing this because of poverty. It seems as though they are running after the golden deer, they think a lot of money can be earned abroad. This is a sort of mental illness. They could have led a comfortable life and found better jobs here," she added.
Some 3,000 illegal migrants, including Rohingyas -- a Muslim minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar -- and Bangladeshis, fleeing poverty at home, have landed in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in the past two weeks.
A crisis was triggered in early May when Thailand, the first stop for illegal migrants on their way to Southeast Asia, launched a campaign to undermine human-trafficking there.
Hasina's statements are the strongest made by Bangladesh, source of many of the illegal migrants, since the beginning of the crisis.
Around 30,000 Rohingya refugees reside in Bangladesh, as do tens of thousands of others who do not have refugee status there and are thus not legally permitted to seek work, nor access education or the justice system.