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These Rohingya children fled persecution in Burma. Now, they're at risk of trafficking


COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Circa) - Renu was going to get a job. A relative had convinced her mother that the money she earned would ease the burdens of life in a refugee camp. The family had fled Myanmar (also referred to as Burma) to escape what a senior United Nations official referred to as ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people. A Muslim-majority ethnic group hailing from Myanmar, the Rohingya have been persecuted by the predominately Buddhist state of Myanmar for decades. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled from the country to neighboring Bangladesh where they face a whole new set of challenges in living in refugee camps.

Renu went to work as a house maid. Renu did not return from her job. Any attempts to contact her were rebuffed by those in the home and those who had set up her employment. Renu wasn't just a maid. She was a victim of one of the ugliest practices carried out in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh: human trafficking.

"Some families have to go days without eating anything. So when they're desperate, they'll send their daughters or sons to us to help them find a job," said a trafficker working in a Rohingya refugee camp. The man covered his face during the interview, wishing to remain anonymous due to the nature of his work. "My role as a trafficker is to only supply the people. Whatever happens to them afterwards isn't in my control."

It's what happened afterwards that alarmed Renu's mother.

"They took away all her rights, she wasn't even allowed to call me. If I tried to call my daughter, they would verbally abuse me and torture her," said Renu's mother.

Renu worked in that house for six months without earning a cent. She was not allowed to leave the premises. If the owners were to leave, she would be locked in a room so that she could not escape. All the while, her mother's attempts to contact her daughter were rebuffed.

"They used to say “You have many children, why do you need her?” said Renu's mother.

She knew she could not get her daughter back on her own. So she enlisted the help of a local organization that worked to free trafficking victims. Finally, after months, Renu was freed and brought back to her home. Today, she's enrolled in a school in the camp and spends her time playing with her sisters.

But there are many other trafficking victims who are not so lucky. The Bangladesh Society for Human Rights, UNICEF, the International Organization of Migration and other organizations have acknowledged an increase in child trafficking throughout the camps. To try and combat the practice, Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have set up 10 police checkpoints bordering the refugee camps to try and catch traffickers coming or going. The exact number of children trafficked in Rohingya refugee camps is unknown.

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