UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Press TV

Rohingya refugees bound for Malaysia being 'held hostage' by traffickers at sea

Iran Press TV

Monday, 15 June 2020 3:32 PM

Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya Muslim refugees attempting to reach Malaysia by boat from Bangladesh are being held hostage by human traffickers at sea, families and aid groups say.

"We interviewed at least 30 family members... from 14 Rohingya camps who were asked to pay by traffickers if they wanted to see their relatives alive," Jishu Barua, anti-trafficking lead for the charity Young Power in Social Action, was quoted by Reuters as saying in an exclusive interview, which was published on Monday.

He added, "There could be more (examples of ransom demands)."

The Fortify Rights group, a charity focused on Asia, said it had documented several cases since April where Rohingya families were pressured to pay ransoms, often more than double the original fee agreed upon for the journey.

John Quinley III, senior human rights specialist at the group, said traffickers had treated Rohingya as property through exploitation "similar to slavery."

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it had received reports from the Rohingya at the sprawling camps in Bangladesh that they had been charged "a fee" if they wanted their relatives not to get stranded at sea.

In recent months, a growing number of Rohingya in Bangladesh have taken boats headed for Malaysia due to calm seas and fears over the COVID-19 pandemic in the camps at Cox's Bazar.

A recent Interpol report said smuggling by sea had tripled from March to April.

"The sudden increase was likely due to the fear of COVID-19 contagion in refugee camps fostered by migrant smugglers to boost demand for their services," the global police body said.

Abdul Hakim, a Rohingya refugee at a Bangladesh camp, who last saw his 17-year-old sister in March before she left their camp to take a boat destined for Malaysia, said he did not know about her whereabouts. "I don't know if she is alive or dead."

"A broker called me from the ship a month after she left and asked me to pay 100,000 taka ($1,180) if I wanted her to stay alive and enter Malaysia. We already paid 45,000 taka for the journey through loans. Where will I get so much money?"

Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, is a favored destination for the desperate Rohingya Muslims.

The country had announced that it would no longer accept the refugees after tightening borders and stepping up patrols to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In April, a trawler that was at sea for weeks after it failed to reach Malaysia returned to Bangladesh with 396 starving Rohingya.

Bangladesh also recently said it will not take back hundreds of Rohingya who were detained by Malaysia after their boat was found drifting off the northwestern island of Langkawi.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has urged the international community to help relocate the more than one million Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh after a brutal crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.

More than a million mostly Muslim Rohingya reside in camps in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh refuses to recognize the Rohingya population as citizens.

The United Nations has described the Rohingya as the most persecuted minority in the world.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list