The Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 122 Rohingya from a trawler in the Bay of Bengal south of Cox’s Bazar on Thursday as the boat was heading for Malaysia, officials said.
Some of those on the boat said they left their camps in Bangladesh in search of better lives.
“Of the rescued, 15 were children, 59 were women and 48 were men. They are all residents of various camps in Cox’s Bazar,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Saiful Islam told BenarNews, adding the refugees will be sent back to their camps.
Passenger Mohammed Ayas said he could not find employment in Bangladesh.
“I have three sisters and I could not arrange marriage for them because of poverty,” he told BenarNews. “I wanted to go to Malaysia by sea expecting to ensure a better life for them.”
Another Rohingya said the passengers had been on the trawler for a short time.
“The boat sailed for Malaysia three days ago, but it sustained damage. For this reason we were floating,” Ayub Ali said.
Nur Amin said he had experienced hardship while at the Ukhia Rohingya camp.
“We are a four-member family living on relief goods,” he told BenarNews. “I wanted to go to Malaysia to get relief from this misery, but the Coast Guard detained us.”
Over the last month and a half, about 200 Rohingya – mostly women and children – were rescued while attempting to sail to Malaysia, according to officials who said two brokers have been arrested and sent to prison.
“Human traffickers have become active in this period as the sea remains calm in the winter,” Mohammad Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite police unit, is involved in efforts to keep Rohingya safe.
“A special team of RAB is working to catch the traffickers,” RAB-15 Teknaf commander Lt. Mirza Shahed Mahtab told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, a leader at Ukhia’s Kutupalong camp said refugees have reasons for trying to leave their camps in Bangladesh and many often fall victim to scams.
“Rohingya women are usually the target of human traffickers. At first they arrange telephone-marriage for some Rohingya women with their relatives abroad,” Noor Kalam told BenarNews. “Then they persuade them to sail.”
“Many Rohingya have fled from my camp,” he said. “Some of them were captured later and I am not sure whether many others were successful to reach their destination.”
An analyst blamed Myanmar and the international community for the plight of the Rohingya, more than 740,000 of whom fled Rakhine state in August 2017 following a government crackdown that the United States and the United Nations had described as “ethnic cleansing.”
An undetermined number of Rohingya have boarded boats since then, most of them hoping to reach Malaysia.
Officials say many of Rohingya could end up being exploited by organized smuggling gangs who have also sent thousands of the persecuted Muslims to Southeast Asian nations by boats until Bangladesh launched a crackdown in 2015, when Thailand discovered dozens of mass graves near its border with Malaysia.
Myanmar classifies Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and denies them citizenship, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries.
“There is no ethnic group in the world more repressed than the Rohingya,” Tasneem Siddiqui, chairwoman of a refugee research unit at the University of Dhaka, told BenarNews.
“They are choosing this dangerous route to Malaysia, hoping to live a little better life,” she said.