Young girls, who are among the thousands of Rohingya refugees created by a humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, are being sold into forced labor in Bangladesh according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM). The girls are the largest group of trafficking victims at overcrowded camps in Bangladesh where 700,000 refugees have crossed the border to escape human rights abuses.
According to the IOM, 99 cases of human trafficking were identified during the year starting September 2017, although researchers fear the actual number of victims may be much greater. The report, released this week, said that of the victims, 35 were girls and 31 women. 31 of the girls and 26 of the women ended up in forced labor, with at least 10 percent facing sexual exploitation.
“The stories we commonly hear are of vulnerable people being approached by traffickers with false promises of work and a better life,” said IOM spokeswoman Dina Parmer, adding some refugees were unaware of the risks and fall victim to promises of raising money for family members living in the heavily overcrowded camps.
“Others may be aware it is dangerous, but feel their situation is so desperate that they are willing to take extreme measures, perhaps sacrificing one family member for the sake of the rest of the family,” she said in a statement.
The rest of the trafficking victims include 25 adult men and eight boys who were forced into labor. Figures show five women and four girls ended up in situations of sexual exploitation.
An IOM NGO partner organization, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), a Bangladeshi charity, is trying to raise awareness among refugees of the dangers of trafficking. They have been collecting reports from Rohingya community leaders, as well as local and international groups.
“More than 1,000 have been identified as victims of human trafficking,” according to Jishu Barua of the YPSA.
More than 900,000 Rohingya, an ethnic and religious Muslim minority in Myanmar, live in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, the vast majority in camps, according to the United Nations.
About 700,000 of them arrived in the four months after deadly attacks by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 were followed by military operations that the United Nations and human rights groups said targeted civilians.
Bangladesh bars refugees from leaving the camps or holding jobs other than participating in small-scale cash-for-work programs run by humanitarian agencies, according to IOM.
“They are desperate to get out of the camps to make some money,” Barua told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Cox’s Bazar.
Traffickers prey on that desperation, offering transportation and work opportunities, according to IOM.
Since September 2017, IOM has carried out more than 50 outreach sessions, ensuring almost 1,000 refugees have been made aware of trafficking with messages that they can then share with others. In addition, over 100 Bangladeshi law enforcement officers in Cox’s Bazar have taken part in IOM counter-trafficking training.