Bangladesh: Trafficking of girls rife in Rohingya camps

Rights groups say Rohingya refugees are being increasingly targeted by human traffickers at camps in Bangladesh.

Noyona Katun, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, said her daughter Yasmin was 13 years old when she was snatched by a man in the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in southern Bangladesh and smuggled to India.

That was three years ago. Noyona and Yasmin fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2012.

Noyona said the trafficker was arrested in India and Yasmin was rescued. Her daughter is living at a safe house for other trafficking victims in Kolkata.

Myanmar stripped the Rohingya of citizenship in 1982, which means Noyona and Yasmin do not have passports so they cannot be reunited.

Noyona saves a little money every month to chat to her daughter for a few minutes on the phone.

“Only God knows the pain I experience every day,” she said. “I don’t have money to go to India. My daughter warns me not to try and cross into India without passport.”

Common story

Noyona’s story is not uncommon in the Rohingya refugee camps.

Rights groups say trafficking gangs have worked in the Rohinga camps for years but the recent influx of more than 650,000 refugees has made the trafficking situation even worse.

Al Jazeera spoke to a trafficker who said men often come from outside the camp and pay families for their daughters promising them work. The girls are often never seen again, he said.

“We sit by the road and the men come to us,” said the trafficker on condition of anonymity.

“They ask if we can get the helpless type of people here. Families are ready to provide girls because they don’t have enough food.”

Men often specifically want girls of a certain age and pay the families about $60 for each, he said.

“The men ask me for girls around 12-14 years old,” he said. “They tell me they have difficulty with domestic work at their homes. They say they need someone to cook for them.”

The United Nations’ refugee agency is trying to help Noyona be reunited with her daughter. But it says only the Bangladesh authorities can make the decision.

Noyona is afraid she may die without ever seeing Yasmin again.

“I want nothing more than my daughter back,” she said. “It would be so kind if you can get my daughter back. My Yasmin is a piece of my heart.”