Bangladesh security forces stopped 22 Rohingya Muslims from being smuggled to Malaysia by boat, officials said Monday, the second group in three days prevented from leaving squalid refugee camps.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) forces found 11 women, 10 children and a man at a village on the Bay of Bengal coast, near the border with Myanmar, on Sunday.
The 22 had paid traffickers up to $1,200 each to get a place on a small boat for the dangerous journey, a BGB officer said. The people smugglers fled before security forces arrived.
About 740,000 of the Muslim minority fled Myanmar for Bangladesh after a military clampdown in the Buddhist-majority nation in August 2017.
There were already 300,000 Rohingya already in Bangladesh, where they are largely confined to the overflowing camps.
“The traffickers took whatever they could from the refugees,” Lieutenant Colonel Asadud Zaman Chowdhury, BGB chief for the town of Teknaf, told AFP.
He added that it was possible many of the young women would have ended up in “forced prostitution”.
It is the fourth time since November that Rohingya have been intercepted attempting to get a boat to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
On Friday, border guards stopped 30 Rohingya from boarding a boat and sent them back to their camps.
Authorities fear that more Rohingya will try to take boats to Malaysia while the Bay of Bengal is calm up until the end of March.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said “an internationally organised racket” was preying on desperation in the Rohingya camps.
“The refugees are lured by false promises. They simply don’t have any idea how dangerous these sea journeys can be,” he told AFP.
The UN refugee agency urged the Myanmar authorities to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine.
“Rohingya will continue to risk their lives on boats unless there are tangible solutions to their plight,” UNHCR spokeswoman Caroline Gluck told AFP.
People smugglers sent tens of thousands of Rohingya from the camps to Malaysia before Bangladesh launched a crackdown in 2015.