Bangladesh Coast Guard intercepted a wooden boat carrying 119 Rohingya refugees bound for Malaysia as it was about to sink, officials said Thursday, the latest in a spate of trafficking incidents this year.
Nearly one million Rohingya live in squalid camps near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, many fleeing the neighbouring country after a brutal military crackdown began in 2017.
With few opportunities for jobs and education in the camps, thousands have attempted to reach other countries like Malaysia and Thailand.
The vessel was found in the Bay of Bengal, just off the coast of southern Saint Martin’s island, after a tip-off by fishermen, coast guard spokesman Saiful Islam told AFP.
“We found that the boat was taking water due to engine failure,” Islam said. “It was about to sink. Had we not reached there in time, it would have sunk.”
Islam said the 119 people on board, including 58 women and 14 children, were heading for Malaysia.
It was the highest number of Rohingya found in a vessel at sea this year, he added.
So far this year, law enforcement agencies have picked up over 500 Rohingya from coastal villages and boats as they waited to board boats bound for Malaysia.
At least seven suspected human traffickers have been shot dead so far in 2019 in alleged gunfights with police.
Trafficking often increases after the monsoon, when calm November seas allow small fishing trawlers to travel long distance.