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DHAKA: A growing number of Rohingya women in Bangladesh are being targeted by human traffickers offering them an escape from deteriorating 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 last year described as “inhumane”. 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 flee the overcrowded camp in Bangladesh in recent years, hoping to seek a better life elsewhere, often with the help of human trafficking networks.

“Human trafficking is undoubtedly a problem here. On the part of the government, we are trying to combat this,” Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“Women and children are trafficked in many cases and this is derived from sheer frustration and no money situations.”

Some 569 Rohingya — out of nearly 4,500 — died or went missing in 2023 while trying to move to another country in deadly sea crossings, often by rickety boats, the highest figure in nine years, according to agency data UN for Refugees.

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

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

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

In such cases, the Rohingya involved would “make contact with human traffickers” to avoid not having legal travel documents.

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

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

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 after a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military that the UN said amounted to genocide.

Bangladesh’s Rohingya have faced restrictions on movement and work in recent years, forcing them to remain inactive amid growing uncertainty about their future, declining international aid and languishing attempts at dignified repatriation.

Dhaka-based migration expert Asif Munir told Arab News: “There is no permanent solution in sight to the camp life situation; this created frustration among the camp population.

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

Even the presence of law enforcement officers is not enough to keep up with 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 activities.

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

“Traffickers and smugglers are ready to offer the service in exchange for money. And for women who feel they are backed up against a wall, this is an option.”

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