Rescue at a price for Rohingya
Shamlapur – For thousands of Rohingya Muslims, a fleet of small wooden fishing boats has meant deliverance from what they say is an indiscriminate assault on their villages by the Myanmar army.
Deliverance, however, comes at a price. Some paid as much as 10 000 taka (R1 610) per adult to boatmen to make the five-hour crossing from Myanmar’s coast to ports in southern Bangladesh.
The fishermen say they have a moral obligation to help desperate fellow Muslims escaping persecution but Bangladeshi officials accuse them of profiteering. Ordered to stamp out human trafficking, they have made arrests and even set fire to fishing boats.
“Of course, we want to keep going back to rescue more people. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are in a bad situation, so I have to go and bring them,” said Mohammed Alom, 25, a fisherman in the Bangladeshi village of Shamlapur.
Around 400 000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh in less than three weeks and people are still coming, by land and sea, after attacks by Rohingya militants sparked a fierce counteroffensive by Myanmar’s army.
Senior United Nations officials have described the violence as ethnic cleansing.
The influx is placing huge strain on authorities in southern Bangladesh, one of the poorest parts of a poor country.
But Border Guards Bangladesh commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ariful Islam said the “recuers” were exploiting the refugees.
“These people are very poor, it’s just extorting from them whatever they have. We are helping those who arrived, but we’re trying to insist that no human trafficking should take place.”
Three Rohingya fishermen interviewed didn’t believe the profits they made detracted from their rescue mission.
But two refugees said family members were detained by fishermen or brokers in Bangladesh when they could not pay for the journey.
STOP THE OPPRESSION. Indonesian Muslim activists protest against the persecution of the Rohingya minority outside the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, this week.