Urgent Action Needed To Protect Rohingya Refugees From Sex Trade


By Charlie Neyra

As the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh swells to over 830,000, women are increasingly being targeted by the sex trade, and according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the urgency of addressing the issue “cannot be overstated.”

Human trafficking and exploitation of Rohingya refugees is rife, according to aid agencies, amid reports of more women being forced into prostitution and taken as sex slaves.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the IOM is even aware of cases of Rohingya refugees being trafficked overseas.

The IOM is part of a network of charities and NGOs working to help refugees in Bangladesh.

Olivia Headon, IOM’s information officer in the emergencies division, told Arab News that the organization “is seeking funding to enhance its counter-trafficking and gender-based violence programming to prevent … abuses from happening and to properly support survivors.”

Myanmar’s military campaign against the Rohingya, which sparked the ongoing refugee crisis, prompted the UN human rights chief to lash out at the situation. In September, Zeid Al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council that “the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

IOM is scaling up efforts to offer “safe spaces,” with one already in operation, and a further seven under construction. According to Headon, these are places where “women and girls can go to at any time to feel safer and empowered and have access to information, education, recreational activities, support and services. These spaces support women and girls to recover from violence, form networks and access support, safety and opportunities.”

The situation is “connected to … the issue of forced and early marriage. Early marriage is often seen as a means of protection by the community, but we are concerned that young girls are being married off to older men or men who may already have other wives, leaving the girls open to more abuse,” Headon told Arab News.

The Bangladeshi government is working in partnership with IOM, as well as with local authorities and police in the southeast coastal town of Cox’s Bazar, to enhance protection of Rohingya women and girls. There are IOM teams in five main refugee settlements, as well as a mobile team that covers extension areas and spontaneous settlements, but the inter-governmental organization says more needs to be done, with hundreds more Rohingya refugees arriving daily.

The UN on Sunday said that $434 million is needed to provide assistance to the 1.2 million people affected, which includes those in host communities. According to the UN, only 34 percent of that money has so far been raised.

“Humanitarian partners are working around the clock to respond, but the reality remains that the needs are massive and urgent, and the gaps are wide. More funding is needed. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but more land is needed to improve conditions in the congested camps,” said Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, in a statement.

A monitoring report released on Sunday said that the risk of disease outbreak is high, and the impact of a cyclone or heavy rain would be massive, adding that there is not enough land to provide adequate living conditions for the refugees in and around Cox’s Bazar.

Released by the Inter-Sector Coordination Group that works with organizations on the ground in Bangladesh, the report says that most refugees are living in 10 different camps, with one camp already the largest and fastest growing in the world. Approximately half a million people are living extremely close to each other without access to basic services such as toilets or clinics.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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