THE United Nations migration agency has come up with a worrisome finding that Rohingya refugee girls are sold into forced labour to raise money for desperate families in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh. The International Migration Organisation, in its report launched this week, says that it has identified 99 cases of human trafficking in the year beginning with September 2017, just about a month after the Rohingyas started fleeing violence in their homeland Rakhine State by Myanmar’s military and security forces. The agency’s fears that the actual number of such victims could be far greater comes as an added worry. The influx of the Rohingyas into Bangladesh since then has taken their total number here to more than a million, including about 400,000 having already lived, fleeing violence in Myanmar, since the late 1970s. While a situation like this is dangerous for the Rohingyas, it is also worrying for the government, warranting that it should step up efforts to stop such incidents. The UN migration agency says that of the victims, 35 were girls, 31 of whom have ended up in forced labour, and 31 were women, 26 of whom are reported to have been in the same situation. The rest of the trafficking survivors comprised of 25 adult men and eight boys, both forced into labour.
What remains more worrisome is that five of the women and four of the girls ended up in situations of sexual exploitation. The story commonly heard is that vulnerable people are approached by traffickers with false promises of work and a better life. While many of them are aware that it is dangerous, their situation has become so desperate that some of them are willing to take extreme measures, even sacrificing a member of the family, for the sake of the rest. The agency has found one women being forced to work extremely long hours for a very little pay in the fish processing industry; it has also found girls and young women being employed as domestic maids. This is reported to have happened although Bangladesh authorities bar Rohingyas from leaving the camps or holding jobs other than participating in small-scale, cash-for-work programmes run by humanitarian agencies. The situation at hand suggests that the humanitarian assistance extended to the Rohingyas is not enough. It is in this context that the government should take up the issue with the international community, especially about Rohingya crisis response funding. The Inter Sector Coordination Group, about a week ago, expressed concern about the Rohingya response running the risk of being severely underfunded. The reported trafficking of the Rohingya refugees, and the reasons that prompt it, and the response underfunding concern could in no time further compound the situation.
The foremost task that now remains for the government, under the circumstances, is to investigate the issue and stringently deal with it. Unless the government so does, early and in earnest, what the Bangladesh authorities have so far done about the persecuted Rohingyas, in a mark of humanity, could come to naught, in addition to further jeopardising the Rohingyas who have been driven out of their homeland, being left with a fearful life in an uncertain future. The government must also negotiate the crisis response funding with the international community.
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