Bangladeshi security forces have stopped nearly two dozen Muslim Rohingya refugees from heading to the more prosperous and Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Lieutenant Colonel Asadud Zaman Chowdhury, an officer with the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said on Monday that BGB forces had found 11 Rohingya women, 10 children, and a man at a village on the Bay of Bengal coast, near the border with Myanmar, on Sunday.
Chowdhury, who is BGB chief for the Bangladeshi border town of Teknaf, said the 22 Rohingya had paid traffickers up to 1,200 dollars each to get a place on a small boat for the dangerous journey.
The human traffickers apparently took other properties from the refugees as well.
“The traffickers took whatever they could from the refugees,” Chowdhury told AFP.
The smugglers allegedly fled before security forces arrived.
The Muslim Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have fled state violence in neighboring Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Thousands from the Muslim community were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmarese soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017, when the surviving members of the community started fleeing to Bangladesh en masse.
About 740,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh last year. Some 300,000 had already fled earlier bouts of violence.
But the grave conditions in the camps in Bangladesh have prompted increasingly larger numbers of them to attempt to flee to Malaysia and other countries on rickety boats and in dangerous weather conditions. Bangladeshi officials often intercept the fleeing refugees.
On Friday, Bangladeshi border guards stopped 30 Rohingya Muslims from boarding a boat and sent them back to their camps.
Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, recently told media outlets that “an internationally organized racket” was preying on desperate Rohingyas in the camps.
“The refugees are lured by false promises. They simply don’t have any idea how dangerous these sea journeys can be,” he said
Caroline Gluck, a spokeswoman for the United Nations (UN)’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, who is based in southeast Bangladesh, also urged Myanmarese authorities to address the root causes of the crisis.
“Rohingya will continue to risk their lives on boats unless there are tangible solutions to their plight,” she said.
The Rohingya Muslims, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship and are branded illegal emigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.