Victims say they were lured to Thailand and Malaysia by promises of better jobs, then tortured.
Bangladesh police say they have arrested a human trafficking “godfather” in a fresh crackdown on smugglers accused of exploiting the regional refugee crisis.
The arrest of alleged kingpin Dil Mohammad over the weekend in the southern smuggling town of Teknaf -bordering Myanmar – was part of crackdown that also saw 19 other traffickers captured in the past month.
Teknaf police inspector Kabir Hossain said Mohammad, 45, was arrested after arriving back in Bangladesh from Malaysia.
“Mohammad has been wanted in Malaysia and Thailand for smuggling hundreds of poor Bangladeshis to Malaysia by using rickety boats in the Bay of Bengal,” Hossain told the AFP news agency.
Bangladesh targeted smugglers in May after persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh were abandoned at sea en route to Southeast Asia.
A crackdown by Thailand led to the unravelling of people smuggling networks that saw thousands stranded in open waters and dumped in jungle camps.
Bangladesh smugglers who went into hiding at the time have since returned to their villages now that the monsoon season is ending.
“Gradually the fugitive smugglers are returning home after the end of the monsoon anticipating the hit is gone,” Hossain said.
With seas expected to be calmer in coming weeks, experts said smugglers were looking to restart voyages to Thailand and Malaysia.
“The smugglers have been accumulating strength for a fresh start to their business. We’ve reports their grassroots operations have become active,” Shakirul Islam, a migration expert, said.
The crisis in May shone a spotlight on the booming human smuggling industry that preys on the desperation of the thousands trying to escape grinding poverty in Bangladesh or persecution in Myanmar.
In May, Bangladesh police said they shot dead four smugglers and arrested 90 others in clashes, following the discovery in Thailand of mass graves.