TEKNAF, BANGLADESH – Bangladesh coast guard elements on Thursday stopped 58 Rohingya refugees from making a potentially dangerous journey to Malaysia by sea and arrested two suspected traffickers, an official said.
Acting on a tip-off, a patrol ship challenged a fishing boat near Saint Martin’s, a small Bangladesh island in the Bay of Bengal, and found the Rohingya on board, coast guard Lt. Josel Rana said.
“We’ve found 58 refugees and detained two human traffickers on the boat,” he told AFP.
About 740,000 Muslim minority Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since a brutal military crackdown in the Buddhist-majority nation began in August 2017.
Thousands of refugees attempt to flee the camps each year in pursuit of better opportunities in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.
So far this year, law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh have rescued over 400 Rohingya refugees from coastal villages as they were waiting to board boats bound for Malaysia.
But this is the first time in 2019 that Rohingya refugees were rescued at sea, raising concerns that the situation in Bangladesh’s overcrowded camps — home to nearly 1 million — is worsening.
“Such incidents will continue as desperation among the refugees is on the rise,” said Emdadul Haq, a professor at the private North South University in Dhaka.
Rana said most of the refugees picked up by the coast guard were from the Kutupalong camp — the largest refugee settlement in the world.
Most attempt the journey before March, when the sea is calm before the monsoon season sets in, but experts say traffickers are now convincing the refugees to attempt the trip even in rough waters.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has said the vulnerability of Rohingya to trafficking has increased enormously as livelihoods, support networks, and other fundamental systems are disrupted.