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4 - Circulations in shadow corridors: Connectivity in the Northern Bay of Bengal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2020

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Summary

Abstract

The Northern Bay of Bengal has a legacy of human trafficking from at least the seventeenth century. It has left its footprint in the popular culture of Bengal. Today, human trafficking is still running very high but is almost invisible. This invisibility thrives on the pre-modern sea transportation system being unrecorded and considered as part of the informal economy. In turn, this invisibility facilitates the luring of job seekers by middlemen and slavery across the Bay towards Thailand. The dramatic situation of the Rohingya in the Arakan State in Myanmar and the instability at the border with Bangladesh strengthen the trafficking network along unsettling borders.

Keywords: shipbuilding, Indian Ocean, contemporary slavery, human trafficking network, border instability

Introduction

Across borders: Shadow ‘Malaysia airports’ and shadow human circulation

Himchari National Park and Reju canal are on a strip of hilly and riverine land, south of Cox's Bazar Town, between the Bay of Bengal and the Naf river dividing Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar). This strip is known for being at the receiving end of clandestine and dramatic migration from Arakan state in Burma to Bangladesh. Cox's Bazar district accommodates United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps for Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong and Nayapara, a few miles south of the Reju River. The camps host around 30,000 people, and approximately 500,000 Rohingyas are estimated to be living clandestinely in Bangladesh. The new wave of exodus in summer 2017 may have doubled this uncertain figure. Many of them share the same linguistic basis and many cultural features and therefore move through the Chittagong region in relative anonymity (Berthet, 2013).

One evening in 2012, I was enjoying the cool breeze of the Reju canal south of Cox's Bazar. The mouth of the Reju canal can be seen from there, opening on both sides of the Bay of Bengal and found on one of the world’s longest and most beautiful sand beaches. Moonboats are dotted along the beach like notes on a silken music sheet. The channauka in Chatgaya (the Chittagonian language), or the chengudulu in Arakanese, is a versatile type of ship that can sail in the shallow coastal waters, crossing the sandbars close to the shores and landing directly on the beach, or sail up the even shallower rivers during high tide.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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