Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during heavy rain at a temporary refugee camp, outside Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, June, 2015.
Soe Zeya / Reuters

Unlike fishing boats elsewhere, the small, graceful wooden vessels that are grounded all day on the sandy beach at Sonarpara, 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Dhaka, are heavy with cargo when they set out to sea at night and empty when they return to shore. Yet they still make a profit, for their business is not fishing but human trafficking. For tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers, the boats are the first leg of a desperate journey from Bangladesh to Malaysia and beyond.

According to survivors and family members we interviewed on a recent Human Rights Watch visit to the area, those boarding the boats are almost equally divided between poverty-stricken Bengalis and even more destitute Rohingya. Whereas the former arrive from all corners of Bangladesh as economic migrants, the stateless Rohingya are fleeing ethnic violence and discrimination. For many Rohingya, the journey started on the other side of the

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