Bangladesh to set up courts to try people smugglers

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh is moving to set up seven special courts across the country to try people smugglers charged with trafficking desperate migrants to Southeast Asia on rickety boats, a minister said on Thursday.

Law and Justice Minister Anisul Huq said a court would be established in each of the country's provinces following a recent spike in trafficking of Bangladeshis and Rohingya from neighbouring Myanmar.

"There will be seven tribunals to try traffickers," Huq told AFP by phone, without giving a timeline for them to start operating.

The move comes after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday slammed the country's economic migrants, calling them "mentally sick" for fleeing in search of jobs, and accusing them of hurting the country's image.

Hasina called on authorities to halt the flow of migrants and take action against human traffickers.

An official also said on Wednesday that Bangladesh planned to relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees, who are sheltering in two camps in the southeastern district of Cox's Bazar, to Hatiya island in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh's police and border forces have launched a crackdown on the smugglers in recent weeks after the discovery of mass graves of migrants in Thailand.

Authorities have shot dead at least five suspected traffickers and arrested more than 100 others.

Hundreds of trafficking cases have also been piling up in the lower courts since Bangladesh enacted an anti-human trafficking law in 2012 which stipulates the death penalty for the worst offenders.

Southeast Asia is currently battling an exodus of boat people fleeing persecution and poverty.

A Thai crackdown on trafficking networks earlier this month left thousands of desperate people stranded at sea at the mercy of the smugglers.

More than 3,500 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since the crisis erupted.

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