THE capsize of an engine boat headed for Malaysia with 138 Rohingyas on board in the Bay of Bengal off the Southpara coast of St Martin’s Island early Tuesday — in which at least 15 died, 72 were rescued alive and others went missing — points to the issue of human trafficking involving the Rohingyas, who have fled military violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar to Bangladesh. About 740,000 Rohingyas have crossed the sea into Bangladesh since August 25, 2017 when the latest spate of persecution of the Rohingyas began, taking the total number of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh to more than a million, with the rest having fled Myanmar in phases and lived here since the late 1970s. In the case at hand, the Rohingya victims rescued identified, as New Age reported on Wednesday, three of their fellows as human traffickers, who are reported to have taken between Tk 20,000 and Tk 50,000 from each with promises of jobs and greater freedom. Having fled violence in Myanmar and lived in camps in Cox’s Bazar, many of the Rohingyas could risk dangerous journeys by sea, or perhaps by land as has sometimes been reported, for better lives elsewhere, especially when the process of their return to their homeland in Myanmar has become uncertain.
But it suggests that there could be some people of Bangladesh involved in the trafficking network, which is said to have been inactive for some time but have started prowling in recent times. A UN document, citing the UN refugee agency in March 2019, estimated that more than 170,000 people had boarded ships from Myanmar and Bangladesh bound for Thailand and Malaysia in 2012–2015. The Coast Guard’s intercepting boats headed for Malaysia on five reported occasions in 2018–2019, along with the arrest of people suspected of being involved in trafficking, also corroborates the fact. While the majority of the people trafficked in the period were Rohingyas, the criminal syndicate is reported to have targeted Bangladeshis as well. The people having been trafficked, even if they are all Rohingyas, may well not be from Bangladesh as the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar in September 2019 said that 600,000 Rohingyas still lived in Myanmar facing systematic persecution under the threat of genocide. It is reported that about 500 Rohingyas have been in the custody of Thailand after being intercepted on their way to Malaysia. While the failure of the international community to provide a sustainable solution to the decades of persecution of the Rohingyas has bolstered such illegal movements, the failure of the world community now to ensure a voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation may also put the Rohingyas in further jeopardy.
The situation at hand warrants urgent steps involving all stakeholders, especially Myanmar’s neighbours, to stop trafficking in chiefly the Rohingyas. It also calls for Bangladesh authorities to look into if there are any problems with the Rohingya camp management and attend to them early to stop efforts of such illegal movements. The government must also find out if any Bangladeshis are involved in the criminal syndicate, as it is largely feared, and punish them deterrently to save the Rohingyas from putting their lives in further risk.
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