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DHAKA: More and more Rohingya women in Bangladesh are becoming targets of human traffickers offering them an escape from deteriorating conditions in the world’s largest refugee camp.

Nearly a million Rohingya live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, which Amnesty International described as “inhumane” last year. Refugees are not allowed to leave the fenced-in area and are trapped there with only limited supplies of food, water and electricity.

Thousands have tried to escape the overcrowded camp in Bangladesh in recent years in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere, often with the help of human trafficking networks.

“Human trafficking is undoubtedly a problem here. From the government side, we are trying to combat it,” Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s Commissioner for Refugees and Repatriation, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“Women and children are in many cases victims of human trafficking, and this is due to the situation of absolute frustration and destitution.”

About 569 of nearly 4,500 Rohingya died or disappeared in 2023 while attempting to reach another country on dangerous sea crossings, often on rickety boats. This is the highest number in nine years, according to the UN refugee agency.

Many are taken to Malaysia and Indonesia. Jakarta blames human traffickers for the increasing number of Rohingya who arrived in the country by boat at the end of last year.

Rahman said many women undertake the dangerous sea voyage “with the aim of marrying a Rohingya man” who may have moved to a country in Southeast Asia.

He said: “Most of the Rohingya living in Malaysia are men. They marry Rohingya girls living in the camps through mobile phones. Later, the man sends money to bring the woman to Malaysia.”

In such cases, the Rohingya affected would “contact the traffickers” to circumvent their lack of legal travel documents.

Rahman added: “In this process, they sometimes succeed, but sometimes they end up in abusive situations. Sometimes they drown at sea.”

The predominantly Muslim Rohingya – described by the UN as “the world’s most persecuted minority” – have been subjected to decades of persecution in Myanmar.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 after Myanmar’s military brutally cracked down on them. According to the UN, the actions amounted to genocide.

Since then, the Rohingya have been restricted in their freedom of movement and work in Bangladesh. Their future is always uncertain, international aid is dwindling and efforts to ensure a dignified repatriation are failing.

Dhaka-based migration expert Asif Munir told Arab News: “There is no permanent solution in sight to the situation in the camp. This has led to frustration among the camp population.”

“The Rohingya population is vulnerable and densely populated. As far as the trafficking network is concerned, they can move more freely and exploit the women who are already in a vulnerable situation in the camps.”

Even the presence of police officers is not enough to keep up with the Rohingya population, Munir said, as authorities also have to deal with security incidents by armed groups inside and outside the refugee camp.

Life in Cox’s Bazar is challenging for many Rohingya women. Many of them have been exploited by local men from Bangladesh with promises of marriage or lured into commercial sex work.

Munir added: “In some ways, they at least feel that they would have a better life if they could somehow go to Malaysia, even if it would not be entirely legal.

“Human traffickers and smugglers are willing to offer these services for money. And for women who feel like their backs are against the wall, this is an option.”

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