Bangladeshi human traffickers exploit Rohingya women in refugee camps

Bangladeshi human traffickers exploit Rohingya women in refugee camps

DACCA: A large number of Rohingya women in Bangladesh are being targeted by human traffickers who offer them false promises of escape from dire living conditions in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in the country.

Home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees, Cox’s Bazar has been described by Amnesty International as “inhumane,” with residents trapped in fenced-off areas and facing severe shortages of food, water and electricity. The desperate situation has driven thousands of refugees to seek ways out of the overcrowded camp, often falling prey to human trafficking rings.

Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation, acknowledged the seriousness of the problem. “Human trafficking is definitely a problem here. On the government side, we are trying to combat it,” Rahman told Arab News.

He stressed that many Rohingya women and children are being trafficked out of extreme frustration and destitution, seeking to flee via perilous sea crossings to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 569 Rohingya died or went missing in 2023 while attempting these dangerous crossings, the highest number in nine years.

Rahman said some women undertake these journeys in the hope of marrying Rohingya men already settled in Southeast Asia. “Most of the Rohingya living in Malaysia are men. They marry Rohingya girls living in the camps through phone contacts. Later, the men send money to bring their wives to Malaysia,” he said, pointing to the involvement of human traffickers to circumvent legal travel restrictions.

However, these attempts often lead to tragic results, with reports of abuse, exploitation and deaths at sea. The Rohingya, called by the UN “the world’s most persecuted minority,” have endured decades of persecution in Myanmar, culminating in a mass exodus to Bangladesh in 2017 following a brutal military crackdown.

Asif Munir, a Dhaka-based migration expert, highlighted the vulnerability of Rohingya women in Cox’s Bazar, exacerbated by restrictions on movement, lack of employment opportunities and dwindling international aid. “The Rohingya population is vulnerable and densely populated, making them an easy target for traffickers to exploit their dire situation,” Munir said.

He stressed that despite efforts by law enforcement, challenges persist due to the size of the camp and security concerns related to armed groups. Many Rohingya women, exploited by local men or lured into the sex trade, see illegal migration facilitated by traffickers as a risky but potentially better alternative.

“They believe that going to Malaysia offers a chance for a better life, even under illegal conditions,” Munir added.