Australia not ready for new wave of people smugglers
A PLANby Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya from mainland refugee camps to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal has become a powerful push-factor in encouraging them to pay smugglers to get on boats.
And Australia has been warned they lack the resources to monitor the "new frontline".
Shelters are under construction on previously uninhabited Bashan Char Island, also known as Thengar Char, to house Rohingya who have fled the violence in Myanmar.
With more than 700,000 overcrowding refugee camps in Bangladesh, the government is looking to ease pressure in the camps as well as sending a message that it has had enough.
Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, which monitors the Rohingya situation with a special focus on maritime movements, said the plan to send people to the remote island would force people onto boats.
"On one hand, precarious conditions and insecurity in the camps, in addition to possible forced transfer of 100,000 refugees to Bashan Char Island, constitute an enormous push-factor," she said.
"On the other, Bangladesh security agencies are vigilant and conducted many raids, arresting people before they could even embark, so departures are not easy."
So far in 2019 only two boats have been tracked heading south from Bangladesh.
One arrived undetected onto Malaysian shores and last week a second group of 34 women and children - believed to be part of a larger group - were dumped on mudflats in northern Malaysia by their smugglers.
It is reported that numerous vessels have left Bangladesh in late 2018, though most were forced back to Bangladesh.
The destination is typically Malaysia, currently home to more than 84,000 registered Rohingya refugees and many more living unregistered.
Dr John Coyne, head of the Border Security Program at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there was so far no sign of Rohingya trying to get to Australia by boat.
But he warned Australia was poorly resourced to monitor the trends.
"The Australian Federal Police has just one officer to handle Laos, Myanmar and Bangladesh at present," he said.
"If we're going to be strategic about protecting Australian borders and disrupting people-smuggling business models, then the new front line has to be in source countries.
"The closest source countries in terms of imminent issues remain Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. We have good co-operation with Sri Lanka but much more needs to be done with Bangladesh and Myanmar."