Hundreds of Rohingya refugees set sail from Bangladesh
More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to other south east Asian countries in 2022
Rohingya people queue as Indonesia immigration officers make their data at immigration building for their temporary place in Lhokseumauwe, North Aceh on November 22, 2023. (Photo by ZIKRI MAULANA/AFP via Getty Images)
AT LEAST two more boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees set sail from Bangladesh this week, refugees and a monitoring group said, the latest in a wave of migrations that has seen more than 1,000 asylum seekers arrive on Indonesian shores.
Bangladesh is home to around one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled a violent 2017 crackdown by the Myanmar military that is now subject to a United Nations genocide probe.
Conditions for Rohingya refugees in the overcrowded, dangerous and under-resourced relief camps in Bangladesh are tough.
Mohammad Ullah, 26, a registered Rohingya refugee in the Nayapara camp in Cox’s Bazaar, said his former mother-in-law – who had been looking after his four-year-old daughter after his wife died – had taken the child with her on a boat to Indonesia.
“She took my daughter saying that she was taking her to the beach – and then did not return her,” the distraught Mohammad Ullah said.
“When I went to ask where she was, I found out she took my daughter with her family to take on a boat towards Indonesia on 21st of this month.”
He said Rohingya people saw Indonesia as a safe place, because they “easily resettle the refugees”.
Two other Rohingya refugees confirmed the departure of two boats, as did the director of rights group the Arakan Project.
The mostly Muslim Rohingya are still persecuted in Myanmar, and thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, often in flimsy boats, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.
Another Rohingya man in Bangladesh, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the route was run by organised smugglers skilled in being able to dodge naval patrols.
“Brokers take the Rohingya refugees in small boats going between the maritime boundaries of Bangladesh and Myanmar,” he said.
“Then they take the refugees to larger vessels far out to the sea”.
This month has seen a spike in journeys to Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh – a journey of about 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) – with more than 1,000 arrivals in the biggest such wave since the 2017 crackdown in Myanmar.
“Two boats left, one in the night of 20th to 21st, and one on the night of 21st to 22nd,” said Chris Lewa, director of Rohingya rights organisation the Arakan Project.
“We are sure two boats are on the way. They should arrive in eight days.”
The first one was carrying around 200 people while the second was holding up to 150 people, both likely with the aim of reaching Indonesia by next week, she said.
“They left from Bangladesh. They are always arriving in Indonesia because Malaysia is not going to let them in,” Lewa, who is based in Thailand but has a team in Bangladesh, said. “So the best way is to land in Indonesia.”
In Myanmar, those Rohingya who remain are facing new challenges to their movement.
The UN said last week that renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and an armed group belonging to an ethnic minority in Rakhine state – where many Rohingya are from – has displaced thousands and restricted movement.
“No Rakhine boat is going to leave right now,” said Lewa.
More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to other south east Asian countries in 2022, according to the UN refugee agency.
Nearly 200 Rohingya died or went missing last year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, the agency has estimated.