October 9, 2017 – Since October 1st, thousands of Rohingya have been stranded on Myanmar’s beaches, waiting for rescue, but boats cannot arrive because Bangladesh’s government has banned fishing boats from operating in the bay. Bangladesh says this is for the protection of the spawning of rare fish, and additionally to clamp down on drug trafficking. As a result of the ban, fishing boats ferrying Rohingya over the past week have been destroyed by the government, and sailors arrested, a number of whom have now been sentenced to 6 months in prison.
Burma Task Force, understands and appreciates Bangladesh’s need to prevent drug trafficking, and also to replenish the population of fish in the bay. Burma Task Force believes these goals can be achieved without thousands of Rohingya being stranded on beaches for weeks. The thousands of Rohingya on these beaches are vulnerable to attacks, and have already been targeted, credible reports of large scale massacres have been reported to us by sources on the ground. The prospect of attack has propelled many of the stranded Rohingya to escape any way they can, and many are resorting to using rickety, makeshift rafts and boats, with hundreds of men, women and children already drowned.
Imam Malik Mujahid, the Chair of Burma Task Force, noted the urgent need for Bangladesh to lift the ban, “We praised Bangladesh’s handling of the refugee crisis, they went above and beyond their capacity– but the blanket ban on fishing boats puts thousands of Rohingyas at risk of massacre and drowning. This is an unfolding catastrophe that is worsening and it is preventable. We urge Bangladesh to immediately lift the ban.”
Burma Task Force supports the efforts of local activists who are calling for a rescue service, whereby local Bangladeshi sailors would be paid to provide rescue boats as a free service to the Rohingya, fully equipped with life jackets and emergency relief supplies for the journey. The service would limit the number of people in a boat at any one time and only use experienced sailors in sea-worthy boats, avoiding the worst of weather, thus reducing the risk of accidents and drownings.
The service would help prevent Rohingya from being exploited by traffickers and allow those without funds to escape. Funds for an initial trial have been raised, life jackets bought and sailors identified, but due to the ban, sailors will not go out to make the rescues. Officials in meetings with local authorities, lifeguard and the army, whilst sympathetic in some instances, have all stated that they would need a policy change from above their rank to allow such a rescue service. Burma Task Force calls on the Bangladesh Government to make this change.
Burma Task Force is a coalition of 19 North American Muslim organizations.