COX'S BAZAR: The Bangladesh coastguard on Tuesday (Apr 27) rescued 30 Rohingya refugees adrift in the Bay of Bengal for two days after they were attacked by pirates, an official said.
About 1 million Rohingya refugees live in sprawling camps in southeast Bangladesh, having fled repression in Myanmar.
Many pay often-unscrupulous traffickers to put them on dangerous sea journeys to Southeast Asian countries - in this case Malaysia, home to a sizable Rohingya diaspora.
Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Amirul Haque said the boat left from near the camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district on Friday, carrying 20 women, five men and five children.
"On Sunday, the boat was attacked by pirates who took all valuables from the refugees and crippled the boat's engine before leaving," he told reporters.
"They were drifting in the sea without much food as the boat was only meant to take them to a bigger trawler waiting in deep sea. If we hadn't rescued them in time, they would have faced serious consequences," another coast guard spokesman told AFP.
Police said the refugees would be sent to Bhashan Char, a controversial island facility where Dhaka aims to relocate about 100,000 refugees from the congested camps.
In 2017, some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh, leaving their Rakhine state homes to escape a brutal military clampdown by Myanmar security forces.
They joined another 100,000 refugees already living in harrowing conditions.
Since 2015, tens of thousands of Rohingya and poor Bangladeshis have boarded rickety boats to travel to South East Asia in search of jobs and better lives. Hundreds have perished at sea, triggering a crackdown by countries including Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia.
Nurul Alam, a town councillor in Teknaf, near Cox's Bazar, said a lack of work opportunities due to Covid-19 restrictions had prompted many Rohingya to flee the camps for the Malaysia-bound boats, adding that a pandemic-induced decline in fishing had made the passage more appealing.
"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are very few fishing vessels so virtually the sea is empty. The human smugglers have used the situation as an opportunity to traffic people," the councillor said.