Wed May 10, 2017 05:47PM
A security guard stands beside Rohingya Muslims illegally crossing at a border check point in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 21, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)
A security guard stands beside Rohingya Muslims illegally crossing at a border check point in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 21, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Bangladeshi security forces have detained more than a dozen members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim community and two men accused of attempting to smuggle them into Malaysia by boat.

Mainuddin Khan, a regional police chief, said on Wednesday that they were arrested in the Bangladeshi border town of Teknaf.

"Acting on a tip-off, we arrested 19 Myanmar nationals from a house in Teknaf on Tuesday as they gathered there for a boat trip to Malaysia," Khan said, adding, "They said they paid Tk 10,000 ($125) each for the trip."

Khan added that the two Bangladeshis were also charged with people smuggling offences after arranging the trip to Malaysia.

In recent years, thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighboring Myanmar have taken refuge in Bangladesh's southeastern towns of Cox's Bazar, Ukhia and Teknaf.

Several members of the Rohingya community and Bangladeshi economic migrants seeking jobs have made the treacherous journey across the Bay of Bengal toward the relatively prosperous countries of Thailand and Malaysia.

In 2015, thousands of refugees on boats were turned away by Southeast Asian countries, triggering a regional crisis and a crackdown on the human trafficking trade.

Meanwhile, a leader of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said many refugees were now trying new routes to other regions, including the Middle East.

"As people are desperate to leave, these traffickers are now getting prepared to exploit them," AFP quoted Rohingya community leader Mirza Ghalib as saying.

Abu Zafar, another Rohingya elder in Bangladesh, said the refugees caught by police had endured hunger, poverty and the "toughest test of patience."

"They tried to migrate to Malaysia for a better future. It was a do or die situation for them," Zafar said, adding, "The trafficker rackets are getting organized and activated again. They are a mixed gang of both Bangladeshi and Rohingya people."

The Rohingya are already facing abuse, including torture, murder, and rape, in Myanmar, with the government laying a siege to Rakhine state, where they are concentrated.

Persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been going on for years.