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

Almost 1 million Rohingya live in poor conditions in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, which Amnesty International described as “inhumane” last year. Refugees cannot leave the fenced area and are trapped inside due to limited food, water and electricity.

In recent years, thousands have tried to flee the overcrowded camp in Bangladesh, hoping to find a better life elsewhere, often with the help of human-smuggling networks.

“Human trafficking is definitely a problem here. On the part of the government, we are trying to fight against this,” Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“In many cases, women and children are being sought, and it’s out of absolute frustration and penniless situations.”

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

Many are taken to Malaysia and Indonesia, and Jakarta blames people smugglers for the increasing number of Rohingyas arriving in the country at the end of last year.

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

He said: “The majority of Rohingya in Malaysia are men. They marry Rohingya girls living in the camps via mobile phones. Later, the man sends money to bring his wife to Malaysia.”

In such cases, the affected Rohingyas “come into contact with people smugglers” to circumvent the lack of legal documents required for travel.

Rahman added: “In this 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 – described by the United Nations as “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 United Nations described as genocide.

Bangladesh’s Rohingya have faced restrictions on movement and work in the years since, forcing them to remain idle amid growing uncertainty about their future, dwindling international aid and faltering attempts at dignified repatriation.

Asif Munir, a migration expert from Dhaka, told Arab News: “There is no permanent solution to the camp situation; this created frustration among the camp population.

“The Rohingya population is vulnerable and densely populated. In terms of the traffickers’ network, they can move more freely and exploit the women who are already in a vulnerable position within the camps.”

According to Munir, even the presence of law enforcement officers is not enough to keep up with the Rohingya population, as the authorities must also 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 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 can somehow go to Malaysia, they would have a better life, even if it’s not very legal.

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

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