What Does It Have To Do With Human Trafficking?
Before this question can be asked, some background on the crisis needs to be shared. It all began in August 2017 with the Myanmar army beginning a deadly crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in response to Rohingya Arsa militants attacks that same year. Rohingya's begin to flee into Bangladesh due to violent attacks, such as burning their villages, attacking and killing civilians led by the army as well as Buddhist mobs.* The UN described this as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” The UN, in January 2020, ordered Myanmar to take measures to protect the Rohingya community. * To this day, Myanmar’s army denies targeting civilians and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the country, has denied allegations of genocide time and time again. The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities within Myanmar and make up a majority of the population within the country. They speak their language and have their own culture and are stated to be descendants of Arab traders who have been in this region for generations. Myanmar has denied the Rohingya citizenship and has even gone as far as excluding them from the census. The government sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Even before this current crisis, many of the Rohingya have made the perilous journey out of Myanmar due to extreme persecution. The UN Secretary-General described the Rohingya as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world”.* at this current moment about 900,000 Rohingya are living in camps in Bangladesh with an estimated 600,000 remaining within the MR facing acts of persecution and violence as well as being contained to camps and villages with no freedom of movement as well as no adequate access to food or other resources.**
Mohammed Arafat is a Rohingya individual who left Myanmar in 2012 due to severe restrictions being placed on his community. Without any legal options due to a lack of citizenship, Mohammed had to use traffickers to leave Myanmar. He first travelled to India through Bangladesh but as anti-Rohingya rhetoric began to rise in India, Mohammed once again had to put his life in the hands of a smuggler or trafficker to be united with his family in the Bangladesh camps in 2017.*** Mohamed reflects on how lucky he was to have put his life in the hands of smugglers and traffickers to have survived but many individuals were not so lucky during this crisis. Bangladesh stopped allowing Rohingya access into their country in March 2019 and many refugees began trying to travel to Malaysia.* With the rise of the coronavirus, many countries began turning away refugees rather than providing them safe haven. With Bangladesh no longer excepting refugees, these individuals had nowhere to go. Many Rohingya know the risks of trusting traffickers to assure their safe arrival in a new country but had no other alternatives. It is estimated by the UN refugee agency that one and every 69 individuals who attempt this voyage have died. And the traffickers who took advantage of their desperation often abandon them.***
The Rohingya are fleeing oppression in one country but have no protection in the countries they arrive in, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.**** Many of the individuals’ experiences while attempting to leave Myanmar are the same. Ismail and other Rohingya told the Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN), that in an attempt to flee Myanmar they paid traffickers to guide them to the Thai border, but along the way, they were severely abused.**** he describes that, “We were put in a chicken cage when we arrived at Chittagong [in Bangladesh]. There were some chickens in the cage and they locked the cage from the outside. We did not receive food. We were there for one day from 8pm to 7am the next morning. They detained us in order to call for money. They called for 2.2 million Myanmar Kyat [about $1,500] from each person.”****
Many individuals described they were being held captive until they provided additional payments to gain their freedom or continue on their journey. The Rohingya’s horrible treatment does not end with the traffickers but continues at the hands of the foreign governments. Many countries have push-back policies when dealing with boats filled with refugees attempting to enter a country. I push back policy is when “authorities intercept boats and force them back out to sea” and is in violation of international law.****
Another form of trafficking that is happening is within the refugee camps themselves. Individuals within the refugee camps cannot leave or seek employment outside of the camps. These restrictions leave the Rohingya in a vulnerable position easy to be manipulated into trafficking.***** Many young men are promised jobs and young women promised arranged marriages in Malaysia or other countries. In 2020 the Bangladeshi police force broke up a syndicate that was trafficking young women into sex work from the Rohingya refugee camps. Many of the tactics remain the same when attempting to traffic individuals within refugee camps. These tactics can be the promise of lucrative employment or even the chance to leave the camps themselves.*****
In conclusion, the Rohingya people have faced many hardships, being taken advantage of by individuals, or organized groups of traffickers. As this crisis continues to unfold there are ways to provide help to the Rohingya. You can help by donating money to the UNHCR, Red Cross, or any other reputable agencies helping on the ground providing much-needed support and supplies. Both the links to the Red Cross and UNHCR and how to donate are below. https://www.unhcr.org/rohingya-emergency.htmlhttps://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/current-emergency-responses/myanmar-refugee-crisis
*** https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/first-person/2020/05/01/Rohingya-refugees-Bangladesh-human-trafficking-sea ****https://odihpn.org/magazine/mass-atrocities-human-trafficking-rohingya-muslims-move/