Bangladeshis join Rohingya in search of opportunity

Camouflaging themselves among Rohingya refugees, many Bangladeshi men are taking risky and secret boat trips to Malaysia, seeking work there as illegal immigrants.

Between October 27 and November 7, two overloaded Malaysia-bound boats, which had sailed from Bangladesh with 245 people aboard, sank near the Bangladesh port of Teknaf.

International media reported that the people on the boats had been Rohingya refugees. But after interrogating 28 people who were rescued, Bangladeshi security agents found that almost half the people were Bangladeshis, not ethnic Rohingyas.

“Since the issue of the Rohingya interests the global community and some Rohingyas were on those two boats, the international media picked up the story. But many incorrectly reported that everyone on the boats were Rohingya refugees,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Zahid Hasan, head of Border Guard Bangladesh.

In relation to media coverage, he told DW, “It was nowhere reported that almost half of the people on the boats were Bangladeshis. These days on the Malaysia-bound boats sailing from Bangladesh, 60 to 65 percent of the people are Bangladeshis. They are not Rohingyas.”

Rohingya sea route

According to Rohingya community leader Salimullah, the sea route from Bangladesh to Malaysia, via Thailand, was first used by Rohingyas in the mid-1990s.

Stateless Rohingya refugees, who had fled Myanmar to Bangladesh, took boats to reach Thailand, from where they travelled overland to Malaysia. “Soon, some enterprising Rohingyas set up an international human trafficking network to transport desperate people from Bangladesh to Malaysia, following the same route,” said Bangladesh-based Salimullah.

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