A fishing boat, allegedly carrying illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to Malaysia sank in the Bay of Bengal, according to reports. Dozens of passengers are missing, according to Bangladeshi police.
Emergency workers rescued 32 people after the boat sank near the island of Kutubdia, capsizing 1.6 miles offshore, but many remain unaccounted for, according to an Agence France-Presse report cited by the Daily Mail. "Around two dozen people are still missing. The coast guard and police are continuing their rescue operation," local police chief Masud Alam said, adding that the boat was heading to Malaysia illegally. Bangladeshi officials say over 95 percent of the country’s small and medium-sized boats fail minimum safety checks.
All the people on board the boat were reportedly Bangladeshi nationals, however, there were conflicting reports on the number of people aboard. According to Bangladeshi police, up to 60 passengers were on the boat, but a private TV station said the number may have been as high as 100.
The Daily Star reported that those rescued include three human traffickers, who have been handed to local police. Tareq Mustofa, in charge of the Kutubdia coast guard camp, said they are continuing operations with a trawler to find the missing persons.
Illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Malaysia is a common occurrence. By some estimates, thousands of poor Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya Muslims attempt the perilous voyage each year. In 2013, Malaysia’s manufacturing, construction and service industries employed about 400,000 Bangladeshi migrants. Migratory work, both legal and illegal, remains a large part of Bangladesh’s economy. Remittances from Bangladeshi migrant workers reportedly brought in over $14 billion in 2014.
According to a United Nations Global Pulse report, about 120,000 people a year migrated from Bangladesh to Malaysia between 2001 and 2005. In 2007, an indefinite ban on Bangladeshi workers was imposed by Malaysia, amid reports of rampant abuse and exploitation of poor migrant laborers. The moratorium was lifted by the Malaysian government in 2013.
There have been numerous cases of Bangladeshi or Rohingya migrants being trafficked abroad, often facing hostile conditions during and after the trip. The Malay Mail reports that violence and exploitation against Rohingya migrants are commonplace.
In response to the widespread migration issue, Bangladesh’s coast guard and border forces have started acting against economic migrants, seizing ships and arresting human traffickers. However, The Star, a local newspaper, reports that the measures have made little difference.