Bangladeshi police rescued 10 Rohingya refugees, including six women, and arrested a suspected human trafficker who was about to take them by boat to Malaysia, officials said Friday.
Maj. Mehedi Hasan, chief of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Cox’s Bazar district, told BenarNews the rescue operation occurred Thursday night in the southernmost border of Bangladesh within Teknaf sub-district.
The police operations took place days after authorities in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region returned 93 Rohingya Muslims to their displacement camps in Rakhine state after allegedly paying traffickers 500,000 Myanmar kyats (U.S. $312) each to take them by boat to Malaysia in hopes of a better life.
“We conducted an operation in the late hours of Thursday and rescued 10 Rohingya,” Hasan told BenarNews, adding that a man has been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and systematically discriminates against them, denying them citizenship although many of their families have been in the country for generations. They also do not get access to basic services, such as education and health care.
At least 64 Malaysia-bound Rohingya Muslims, mostly women, were rescued during the past two months and five suspected traffickers have been detained, officials said.
Six women who were rescued Thursday night were lured by the suspect who allegedly promised them they could marry prosperous Malaysians, officials said.
The Bay of Bengal is generally calm during winter and traffickers take that opportunity to smuggle Rohingya to Southeast Asian countries where the refugees could find employment.
But trafficking became less frequent after Thai authorities in May 2015 discovered mass graves containing the bodies of 32 Rohingya and Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking in the jungle along Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia.
After the discovery, Thai authorities launched a crackdown on illegal migration, arresting a three-star army general, police and government officials who were implicated as part of a transnational smuggling ring.
In July 2017, former Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen was sentenced to 27 years in prison, when he and 61 other defendants were convicted in Thailand’s largest human trafficking case.
The widespread media coverage generated by the sentencings spurred Bangladesh to launch a crackdown on human smugglers in 2015.
Two weeks ago on Nov. 16, naval authorities rescued a group of 106 Rohingya who paid traffickers to take them to Malaysia when their boat’s engine failed, leaving them stranded in the Andaman Sea off Yangon region.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled or attempted to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on boats organized by human traffickers and bound for other Southeast Asian nations.
About 720,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh following a military crackdown that began in August 2017. U.N. human rights investigators accused Myanmar’s military of committing ethnic cleansing.
RFA, a sister entity of BenarNews, contributed to this report.