A number of Rohingya refugee children have disappeared in Bangladesh and are feared to be victims of human trafficking groups.
In the past seven months, more than 70,000 Rohingya have fled violent persecution in their homeland of Myanmar. There have been widespread reports of rapes and murders as part of a military campaign against Rohingya civilians. The Myanmar government denies the charges.
Rashida is among the Rohingya who fled. She and her children arrived at a camp in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh late last year. Her husband had been killed in a military offensive in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where most of the minority Rohingya live.
A month ago, Rashida’s 10-year-old son Muhammad disappeared from a school he was attending. Rashida says all efforts to learn what happened to him have failed.
“My daughter is always crying. She says that she’ll never see her brother in the future.”
As many as 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingya are thought to be living in Bangladesh. Several non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in the region are working to help the refugees. But political sensitivities restrain the groups from reporting fully about the issues Rohingya face.
However, the recent child disappearances among the newly arrived refugees has led one NGO to speak out. Action Against Hunger says in knows of 16 suspected kidnappings since January.
The group director says newly arrived refugee families are at special risk of kidnapping and exploitation.
He says they lack the safety of community structures they had back home.
“They don’t have any support. They have to make a living so they have to be separated from their kids. So they have some kind of set-up where they’re leaving the children assuming it’s safe and they’re going to try to earn some living. And those kind of separations, like when they are separated that is also the highest risk.”
Human trafficking groups are well established in the region. But little is known about the disappearances, which have taken place both inside and outside the camps. Many Rohingya fear asking local authorities for help.
This leaves little hope for parents like Rashida. She says all she can do is protect her daughter, continue to search and find comfort in her religion.
“I expect that I’ll get him back if Allah wishes.”
I’m Marsha James.
John Owens reported on this story for VOANews. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way
exploitation – n. the act or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work
authorities – n. people who have power to make decisions and enforce rules and laws
comfort – n. a state or feeling of being less worried, upset, frightened, etc., during a time of trouble or emotional pain