A group of rescued mostly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh sleep at a government sports auditorium in Lhoksukon in Aceh province on May 12, 2015 after Indonesian rescuers found their boat carrying 573 passenger stranded in waters off north Aceh province, an official said.  CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina weighed in on the migrant drama unfolding in Asia, calling for the middlemen who facilitate refugees to be punished, in comments published by the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS).

Yet Hasina's remarks took aim at not only those who took advantage of the migrants, but also the migrants themselves, whom she described as "fortune-seekers" and "mentally sick."

"Side by side with the middlemen, punishment will have to be given against those who are moving from the country in illegal way," Hasina said of migrants from Bangladesh, adding that these people were "tainting the image of the country along with pushing their life into a danger."

Those are harsh words for those stuck in one of the world's worst refugee crises. Earlier this month, the United Nations' refugee agency estimated that around 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, a Muslim minority that mostly lives in Burma, had boarded smugglers' boats in the Bay of Bengal during January and March this year, almost double the same period in 2014.

These people have been hoping to start new lives in places like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, but many have simply ended up back at sea after these nations turned them away. As many as 20,000 might be stranded at sea now, according to some expert estimates. Migrants who used land-based routes have suffered awful fates too: Malaysian authorities announced on Sunday that they had uncovered mass graves and barbed wire pens at jungle camps used by human traffickers.

Police in Malaysia report finding about 139 graves at human trafficking camps near the border between their country and Thailand. One of the graves was very close to a mass grave discovered in May 2015. (Reuters)

However, official insults are not uncommon when it comes to the plight of the Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants. Back in 2009, a Burmese diplomat wrote to foreign journalists to argue that they should not feel sympathy for the Rohingya: They are as "ugly as ogres," the diplomat said.

Burma actually refuses to use the word "Rohingya," instead classifying the 1.3 million strong minority as Bengali migrants who crossed the border from Bangladesh, and denying them full citizenship. Inside Burma, many Rohingya have been displaced by ethnic mob violence in 2012, and now live in squalid camps.

Such rhetoric isn't limited to the governments of Burma and Bangladesh. Social media users from a variety of Southeast Asian countries can be found criticizing the migrants online, and recently other countries have offered their own harsh words for these migrants. "Nope, nope, nope," was how Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott put it last week when asked if his country would help resettle the migrants, adding that it would only compel more migrants to pay smugglers to get on the boats, according to Agence France Presse.

Hasina's comments on Sunday were about the Bangladeshi migrants who often travel alongside Royhinga migrants for economic purposes, arguing that these people were mistaken in thinking that they could find a better life abroad. "It's not true that everybody is moving in this way for want," Hasina said. "They are in fact running after 'golden deer' as they think they would earn a huge amount of money if they can go abroad."

But Hasina has been criticized before for her policies regarding Rohingya migrants, who are generally considered to be political refugees. In 2012, the prime minister told Al Jazeera that Rohingya migrants were not her responsibility – and that Bangladesh was "already an overpopulated country."

See also

What the Rohingya crisis says about racism and politics in Asia