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Bangladesh Stops Scores of Rohingya Seeking to Sail to Indonesia

Bangladesh police have clamped down on Rohingya refugees setting sail to Indonesia, officers said Saturday, after hundreds from the persecuted Myanmar minority took the long and risky sea voyage to escape squalid camps.

Some said they had paid traffickers a relative fortune of $1,000 for a place on a boat.

Bangladesh is home to one million mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom fled a violent 2017 crackdown by the Myanmar military that is now subject to a United Nations genocide probe.

Conditions in the overcrowded, dangerous and under-resourced relief camps are tough, and refugees have said the situation is worsening due to cuts in food aid, deadly gang battles and a lack of jobs.

As the seas in the Bay of Bengal calm after monsoon rains, human traffickers are offering hundreds of Rohingya people berths on boats bound for Malaysia and Indonesia, police officers told AFP.

Surge in numbers 

This month has seen a spike in journeys to Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh — a voyage of about 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) — with more than 1,000 arrivals in the biggest such wave since the 2017 crackdown.

Police said they had “stopped and held 58 Rohingya” on Friday night as they reportedly left camps heading to board boats at Teknaf, a Bangladeshi river port just across the border from Myanmar.

“Among them nine are men, 16 are women and 33 are children. We detained two Bangladeshi human traffickers who were allegedly guiding them,” Teknaf police station chief Osman Goni told AFP on Saturday.

“They were ready to sail in a boat from Teknaf and were going to Indonesia and Malaysia.”

Goni said all 58 would be sent back to the camps.

Several Rohingya refugees who were held by police told AFP that they had paid human traffickers around $1,000 each for a boat journey to Indonesia.

“They (the traffickers) kept us in a house, and said they would send us to Indonesia on a boat the next day,” said Selim Ullah, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee, who was detained with his wife and daughter.

‘We know we can die’ 

Ullah said a sharply worsening security situation in the camps and opportunities have prompted them to pay the traffickers to sail to Indonesia.

“We thought we can get a better life, education and healthcare there,” he added. “We know we can die in the boat. But as we’re suffering here, we’ve decided to go there on boats”.

Police say about 60 Rohingya people have been killed in violence in the camps this year.

“There are bandits in the camps,” Ullah said, saying they robbed and extorted people. “They abduct people at night and take them to the hills. We can’t stop them.”

Rabeya, 19, the mother of an infant, was also among the 58. She said she was deeply worried about the safety of her family.

“My husband was kidnapped from the camp twice. Once they took 20,000 taka ($190) and again 40,000 taka,” she told AFP, saying aid agency food handouts were not enough for her family.

“We can’t do anything with the ration we get. They give us 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of rice per month, which doesn’t cover our monthly food intake. That’s why we decided to go.”

Chris Lewa, director of Rohingya rights organisation the Arakan Project, said on Friday they had confirmed two boats left this week, on the night of the 20 and 21 November, departures confirmed by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

One boat was carrying around 200 people, and the second had up to 150 people, she said.

Rohingya refugees said Friday a third boat with around 200 people had set sail on Thursday night.

In Myanmar, those Rohingya who remain are facing new challenges to their movement.

The UN said last week that renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and an armed group belonging to an ethnic minority in Rakhine state — where many Rohingya are from — has displaced thousands and restricted movement.

More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to other Southeast Asian countries in 2022, according to the UN refugee agency.

Nearly 200 Rohingya died or went missing last year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, the agency has estimated.

Source : ZAWYA