Bangladesh stops Rohingya refugees trying to get to Malaysia

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 30, 2018 Myanmar Navy personnel escort Rohingya Muslims back to their camp in Sittwe, Rakhine state, on November 30, 2018. (Photo by – / AFP)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 30, 2018 Myanmar Navy personnel escort Rohingya Muslims back to their camp in Sittwe, Rakhine state, on November 30, 2018. (Photo by – / AFP)

Bangladesh security forces stopped 30 Rohingya refugees from being smuggled to Malaysia by boat, officials said Friday, as fears rise that calmer seas may tempt those living in squalid camps to make the journey to Southeast Asia.

Two suspected human traffickers were detained in the operation by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) forces in Cox’s Bazar district late Thursday, the officials said.

About 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar for Bangladesh following a military clampdown in August 2017. They joined about 300,000 of the Muslim minority already in the country where they are largely confined to camps, which have strained Bangladesh’s resources to the limit.

The 17 women, six children, and seven men were detained on a beach near the coastal town of Teknaf, which borders Myanmar’s violence-wracked Rakhine state, the BGB said.

It is the third time since November that Rohingya have been intercepted while attempting to reach the more prosperous and Muslim-majority Malaysia by boat.

Some boats have also been intercepted trying to leave Myanmar.

Lieutenant Colonel Asadud Zaman Chowdhury told AFP the 30 Rohingya were lured by human traffickers operating in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

He said the Rohingya, who had paid about $1,000 each for “safe passage” to Malaysia, would be sent back to the camps.

One of the women in the group said she was going to Malaysia “to get married” to a Rohingya man she had never met.

“My uncle set me up for the journey and paid for the trip. My husband to be was meant to meet me once I reached Malaysia,” she told AFP, refusing to give her name.

There are fears that with improving weather more Rohingya may be tempted by traffickers to leave the Bangladesh camps and make the dangerous boat journey to Malaysia.

People smugglers sent tens of thousands of Rohingya from the camps to Malaysia before Bangladesh launched a crackdown in 2015. This came after Thai authorities discovered mass graves of refugees and overcrowded boats were intercepted at sea.

The Bay of Bengal — which the boats must cross on their way to Malaysia — is calmer between November and March. But many of the small boats are critically overcrowded by the owners seeking to make more money.

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