October 26, 2023
DHAKA – On a quest to change his fortune, Salamat Ullah left his home in Teknaf for Malaysia in October last year.
After embarking on a boat journey with a broker, Salamat, 26, was detained by Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP). He was then brought to Yangon and sentenced to six months in prison.
Although Salamat’s sentence ended six months ago, he still remains in Myanmar’s Buchidong prison, yearning to return home.
“I was able to speak to my son only for four times since his arrest in Myanmar. He just wants to come back home,” said Zafar Alam, father of Salamat.
Zafar said his son had managed to send a letter to them through a Rohingya, pleading to make arrangements for his return home.
“I appealed to the UNO and the BGB to repatriate my son, but regrettably, we are yet to see any positive outcomes. We are worried about him,” he added.
This is not an isolated incident, as approximately 150 Bangladeshis are currently imprisoned in harsh conditions within Myanmar’s Buchidong prison for an extended period of time. They were sentenced to five years of imprisonment for crossing the border illegally.
However, according to the Burma Immigration Act of 1947, the stipulated punishment for illegally entering or attempting to enter the Union of Burma is imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, a fine, or both.
On October 3, 29 Bangladeshis returned home following the completion of their jail terms. While their jail terms had concluded two and a half years earlier, unfortunately, they still had to endure prolonged incarceration due to bureaucratic processes.
Sources indicate that the return of these Bangladeshis was the result of an 18-month-long effort by the Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon. They were repatriated by the Myanmar government through a diplomatic meeting with Border Guard Bangladesh.
On March 23 last year, 41 Bangladeshis were repatriated from Myanmar, including some individuals who had been detained by BGP while returning home through the Naf river after fishing in the Bay of Bengal.
Within these prison walls, there are not only those seeking to reach Malaysia via sea routes but also individuals involved in drug trafficking.
Lt Col Md Mohiuddin Ahmed, commander of BGB-2 Battalion in Teknaf, confirmed that at least 150 Bangladeshis are awaiting repatriation in Myanmar’s prisons.
“The process of bringing back Bangladeshi nationals, who have completed their prison terms, must be coordinated at the state level. Therefore, the BGB is working to expedite this process,” Mohiuddin said recently.
Azizul Haque, another Teknaf resident, said, “My wife’s elder brother Mohammad Riduan, 26, and his neighbours Syed Akbar, 25, and Mohammad Ibrahim, 25, are currently imprisoned in Buchidong prison in Myanmar. Their prison term ended six months ago, but they are still suffering in jail.”
They were detained by Myanmar BGP on their journey to Malaysia, he said.
On March 15, Myanmar BGP detained 18 fishermen on four boats while they were on their way to fish in the Bay.
They immediately sent back four of them who were underage, while the 14 others were imprisoned.
“We inform the authorities concerned whenever we receive any information about detention of Bangladeshis by Myanmar forces,” said Md Adnan Chowdhury, upazila nirbahi officer of Teknaf.
Nur Hossain, chairman of Sabrang union parishad, termed the arrest of Bangladeshi fishermen from the Naf and Bay of Bengal and their subsequent punishment an inhumane act.
“Such incidents can destroy relations between the two neighbouring countries. It is necessary to play strong roles during the border conferences to resolve the issue,” he added.