The Myanmar government has said that it is ready for repatriation, but Bangladesh has postponed the process to the end of December. The desperation of refugees has revived human trafficking. The first boat to leave Bangladesh was intercepted in the Bay of Bengal. Rohingya were arrested and sent back after they were found adrift off Yangon.
Sittwe (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The 5,000 Rohingya or more refugees living in camps built on the “zero line”, a buffer zone on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, refuse to take part in the repatriation process organised by the two governments.
Bangladeshi authorities and international humanitarian organisations now fear that refugees, dreaming of a new beginning, will become victims of human traffickers. For this reason, security forces have boosted monitoring and patrols in order to intercept fishing boats.
The Rohingya repatriation operations was scheduled to start on 15 November with the transfer of the first 2,260 refugees who had fled between 2016 and 2017. However, no one wants to go back, at least not until Myanmar authorities can guarantee them “security and citizenship rights”.
Although the Myanmar government has said that it is ready to welcome returning refugees, Bangladesh has postponed the start of the operation to the end of December.
Mohammad Hussin, 60, a community leader at the refugee camp in That Kal Pyin camp hear Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, said that refugees don’t want to leave Bangladesh because “we have been living here (government camps) for years and we have not been resettled or returned to our villages” since they fled since 2012.
Given the refugees’ desperate situation, human trafficking seems to be back. During their visits to refugee camps, officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) have been warning people of the problem, stressing that traffickers on board rickety fishing boats take advantage of people’s desperation. In exchange for money, they take them on a dangerous journey in Southeast Asia.
This month, police intercepted the first boat in the Bay of Bengal after it left Bangladesh for Malaysia since the end of the monsoon. Officials warn however that others will follow.
Ikbal Hossain, deputy police chief in Cox’s Bazaar, said that coastguard patrols have been stepped up to prevent trafficking towards Malaysia, a route that was shut down in 2015.
On 16 November, Myanmar authorities intercepted Rohingya on a boat adrift in the waters off Yangon. The group had escaped from Rakhine in 2012.
With a promise of work in Malaysia, home to one of the largest Rohingya communities (about 150,000 people), the refugees left Sittwe on 25 October. The trip cost between 400,000 and 500,000 kyat (US$ 250–315).
Once rescued, the refugees were arrested (pictured) and two days were returned to their villages in Rakhine.