Bangladesh Rescues 30 Rohingya from Sea, Sends Them to Remote Island

Sharif Khiam and Abdur Rahman
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Bangladesh Rescues 30 Rohingya from Sea, Sends Them to Remote Island Rohingya rest after being rescued by the coast guard off Teknaf sub-district in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, April 27, 2021.

Bangladesh coast-guard officials said they rescued 30 Rohingya found adrift in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, after pirates looted their belongings and destroyed the engine of a boat taking them toward a Malaysia-bound ship.

The Rohingya, who came from various refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, were rescued off the coast of Teknaf, a sub-district in Cox’s Bazar, and sent to an island where the government has relocated some 18,0000 refugees.

They arrived on Bhashan Char Island on Wednesday, said Lt. Commander Amirul Haque, a coast guard spokesman.

“The trawler carrying Rohingya was floating in the sea for around five days waiting for a big ship bound for Malaysia and was caught by robbers. The robbers destroyed the engine of the trawler after looting the Rohingya’s belongings,” Haque told BenarNews citing accounts from the rescued refugees about the pirate attack on Monday.

“They were rescued after the trawler floated near the beach at Barodail Para in Baharchhara of Teknaf.”

Over the years, thousands of Rohingya have paid traffickers to transport them to Thailand and Malaysia where they can find work.

Islamic-majority Malaysia hosts as many as 150,000 of the estimated 1.8 million to 2 million Rohingya in the world, and is a desired destination for Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar.

Cox’s Bazar hosts about a million Rohingya who fled persecution in their native Myanmar. Since last December, Bangladesh has moved thousands of these refugees to Bhashan Char, insisting that the relocation was voluntary.

But the 30 rescued Rohingya were summarily sent to the island, said Asif Munir, an immigration and refugee affairs analyst.

“It’s a wrong decision to send them to Bhashan Char instead of returning them to their camps,” Munir, a former official at the International Organization for Migration, told BenarNews.

“It's almost like a punishment for trying to [enter Malaysia] illegally. ‘You tried to go illegally. So now I am sending you to Bhashan Char as punishment.’”

HRW report

Separately, Bangladesh officials said Wednesday that they had arrested a dozen other Rohingya on Bhashan Char earlier this month on charges of alleged theft – and not because they were trying to leave the island, as international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged this week. 

“Twelve Rohingya have been arrested and sent to court in connection with a theft, and not because they were trying to escape. They are currently in Noakhali jail” in Chittagong, Mohammad Mahe Alam, the officer-in-charge of the Bhashan Char Police Station told BenarNews.

HRW said security forces had beaten the 12 Rohingya at the police station on April 6 after they were caught trying to flee the island.

“The mother of one detained refugee said that someone claiming to be a police officer threatened to kill her son in ‘crossfire,’ a euphemism in Bangladesh for extrajudicial executions, unless the family paid a bribe,” HRW’s statement said.

Navy Commodore Rashed Sattar, director of the Bhashan Char Housing Project, acknowledged that some refugees do try to escape but said this was not the case with the 12 Rohingya in question.

“It is true that some Rohingya have been caught trying to escape from here. But that they have been beaten at the police station or threatened with crossfire? …. All these are imaginary allegations. How did they [HRW] know this? Do they have any evidence, or are they just making verbal accusations?” Sattar told BenarNews.

Alam said they had stopped nine refugees trying to flee Bhashan Char on April 4, and police allowed them go back to their island homes after giving them a warning.

However, Munir, the refugee affairs analyst, said he and others who work with the Rohingya had heard allegations that security forces mistreat some refugees.

“Not everything is perfect in Bhashan Char. Those of us who work with the Rohingya get unofficial news from there. We have also heard allegations of Rohingya being tortured by law enforcement authorities there,” Munir said.

“The authorities may say these are isolated or untrue incidents.”

Nurul Islam, a Rohingya who went to Bhashan Char voluntarily, said their movements were being curtailed.

 “It was very good at first when we came to Bhashan Char. But now the situation is getting worse day by day,” Islam told BenarNews.

 “The government’s people do not allow us to go anywhere and talk freely. They are keeping a close watch on our movements.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.