Bangladesh Coast Guard forces stopped 29 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, from being smuggled to Malaysia in rickety fishing boats, officials said Saturday, the latest group prevented from leaving squalid refugee camps.
Lieutenant Commander Mahmud Hasan said Bangladesh Coast Guard forces found 16 women, seven children and six men waiting for the boat along the coast of the southern Saint Martin’s Island early Saturday.
“Among them 22 are Rohingya refugees from the Cox’s Bazar camps and the rest are Bangladeshis. We have also arrested 3 human traffickers with a boat,” Hasan told reporters.
The official said they have handed over the traffickers to the police and sent the refugees back to Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the world.
About 740,000 of the Muslim minority fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, escaping a military crackdown in the Buddhist-majority nation in August 2017, and joining some 300,000 Rohingya already living in the overcrowded camps.
Saturday’s operation marked the sixth time since November that Rohingya have been intercepted attempting to get a boat to Malaysia, a more prosperous Muslim-majority nation.
Security forces last month stopped more than 100 people -- mostly Rohingya refugees -- from making the dangerous journey.
People smugglers sent tens of thousands of Rohingya from the camps to Malaysia before Bangladesh launched a crackdown in 2015 following the discovery of mass graves of refugees by Thai authorities.
Many people attempt to leave Bangladesh by boat while the Bay of Bengal remains calm before the arrival of monsoons at the end of March, according to coast guard officials.