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DHAKA: A growing number of Rohingya women in Bangladesh are being targeted by human traffickers who offer them an escape from worsening conditions in the world’s largest refugee camp.

Nearly 1 million Rohingya live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, which Amnesty International described as “inhumane” last year. The refugees are not allowed to leave the cordoned off area and are trapped inside with limited food, water and electricity.

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

“Human trafficking is definitely a problem here. We are trying to fight it on the part of the government,” Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“In many cases, women and children are trafficked, and it comes out of sheer frustration and no money.”

Some 569 Rohingya – out of nearly 4,500 – died or went missing in 2023 trying to cross the deadly sea crossings, often on rickety boats, the most in nine years, according to the UN refugee agency.

Many have been taken to Malaysia and Indonesia, with Jakarta blaming human traffickers for a growing number of Rohingya entering the country by boat late last year.

Rahman said many of the women make the dangerous sea voyages “with the intention of marrying a Rohingya man” who may have moved to the Southeast Asian country.

He said: “The majority of Rohingya living in Malaysia are men. They marry Rohingya girls living in camps through (contact) mobile phones. Later, the man sends money to bring the wife to Malaysia.’

In such cases, the Rohingya involved would “contact traffickers” to avoid lacking legal documents to travel.

Rahman added: “In this process, sometimes they become successful and sometimes they end up in abusive situations. Sometimes they die by drowning in the sea.’

The predominantly Muslim Rohingya people, called the “world’s most persecuted minority” by the UN, have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military, which the UN says amounts to genocide.

Rohingya in Bangladesh have faced restrictions on movement and work over the years, forcing them into hiatus amid growing uncertainty about their future, dwindling international aid and faltering attempts to return home with dignity.

Dhaka-based migration expert Asif Munir told Arab News: “There is no permanent solution in sight to the conditions of life in the camp; this caused disillusionment among the camp residents.

“The Rohingya population is vulnerable and also densely populated. As for the network of human traffickers, they can move more freely and somehow exploit women who are already in a vulnerable state in the camps.”

Even the police presence is not enough to keep track of the Rohingya population, Munir said, as authorities also have to deal with security incidents involving armed groups in and around the refugee camp.

For many Rohingya women, life in Cox’s Bazar is full of challenges. Many of them were exploited by local Bangladeshi men with promises of marriage or lured into commercial sex work.

Munir added: “In a way, at least they feel that if they could somehow go to Malaysia, they would have a better life, even though it’s not very legal.

“Human traffickers and smugglers are willing to provide a service in exchange for money. And for women who feel they are up against the wall, this is an option.”

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