Rohingya Muslims, who spent four days in the open after crossing over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, sit in a truck after they were allowed to proceed towards a refugee camp, at Palong Khali, Bangladesh, Oct 19, 2017. (DAR YASIN / AP)
UNITED NATIONS - Rohingya refugees, who have fled Myanmar into Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, are being exploited by human traffickers and other exploiters, UN officials said on Tuesday.
"The UN Migration Agency (IOM) has found that human trafficking and exploitation is rife among Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh," UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters at UN Headquarters.
With almost no alternative source of income they are willing to take whatever opportunity they are presented with, even if they are risky, dangerous ones that involve their children
Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesman
"This is according to interviews and focus groups they've been conducting in Cox's Bazar," he said, referring to where makeshift refugee camps were established in southeastern Bangladesh, neighboring Myanmar's Rakhine State.
"Exploitation has been reported among Rohingya refugees not only among those who arrived since Aug 25 this year but also among those who have lived in Bangladesh for years. The IOM says that desperate refugees are being recruited with false offers of paid work," the spokesman said.
"With almost no alternative source of income they are willing to take whatever opportunity they are presented with, even if they are risky, dangerous ones that involve their children," he said. "The agency is also concerned about forced and early marriages taking place among the Rohingya refugee population."
Dujarric said the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since late August rose to 618,000 over the weekend.
All tolled, there are more than 800,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The ethnic Muslim Rohingya are fleeing persecution including deadly attacks and burning of villages in Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist nation.
Desperate men, women and children are being recruited with false offers of paid work in various industries including fishing, small commerce, begging and, in the case of girls, domestic work, the IOM said.
Once they start the job, they usually find that they are not paid what was promised, it said. They are often deprived of sleep, made to work more hours than was agreed, not allowed to leave their work premises and not allowed to contact their family. Women and girls are often physically or sexually abused.
The IOM said it is also aware of cases where Rohingyas have been trafficked to outside Bangladesh, and is assisting the victims, but most of the trafficking is taking place inside the country, which follows the pattern of trafficking globally.
Kateryna Ardanyan, an IOM counter-trafficking expert currently deployed in Cox's Bazar, said, "In the chaos of a crisis like this, trafficking is usually invisible at first, as there are so many other urgent needs like food and shelter. But agencies responding to this crisis should not wait until the number of identified victims increases.
"Rohingya refugees need preventive and proactive action now to mitigate risks of human trafficking, and the survivors need help, before this spirals out of control," she said.