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Checkpoints at Rohingya refugee camps might not be enough to solve trafficking problems

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COX'S BAZAAR, Bangladesh (Circa) - Rohingya migrant Dilara Begum sent her niece, Rojina, to the market to buy some vegetables from the market in their refugee camp in which they live. It was just after Friday prayer. Begum and her family are Rohingya migrants displaced by violence from their native Myanmar (also called Burma). They have fled to neighboring Bangladesh seeking refuge from violence perpetrated by the Burmese government.

Begum's instruction to her niece would mark the last time she would see her.

"We still don’t know whether she was kidnapped and sold for sex work. We’ve been trying to find her with the help of NGOs but there’s no trace of her," said Begum.

Human trafficking in Rohingya refugee camps is a serious problem. It's one that Bangladeshi authorities have tried to combat. If Rojina had been trafficked, she would have needed to have been smuggled out of the refugee camp, through one of the checkpoints, meant to keep Rohingya migrants contained and to discourage crime.

"Some Rohingya’s try to illegally leave the camp areas. In order to prevent movement we interrogate all Rohingya’s passing through the checkpoint," said a Bangladeshi border patrol agent. "If they have written permission then they are allowed to leave."

However, people looking to leave the camp have other, less lawful, options.

"There are secret ways to get out of the refugee camps. We can go through the woods or smuggle people through the checkpoints. Sometimes we can bribe the police or use a Rohingya community leader to take people out of the camps," said a human trafficker who declined to be identified.

The porousness of the borders of a refugee camp can have devastating effects on those who live within, especially when human beings are in such high demand.

"The demand for fair-skinned beautiful young girls is very high," says another trafficker. "I get about $20 USD for providing a new young girl. If she’s fit enough for sex work I get an extra $10 USD. If we bring other girls for different jobs I get around $10USD."

The traffickers pay for victims in dollars, but their loved ones pay for their absence in sadness and pain.

"I searched for my daughter everywhere throughout the camps," says one Rohingya father who is searching for his children. "I even used the loud speakers to call her name. After one and a half months, I found out my daughter has been trafficked to India."

"Due to her refugee status, they cannot bring her back to Bangladesh since she crossed the border illegally. I would do anything to bring my daughter home even if it means selling all of my clothes."

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