500 Rohingya children and women missing from camps

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Publication Date: 23 September, 2017
Media: The Independent 



There is still no news of some 500-odd Rohingya women and children who went missing while crossing the border into Bangladesh or from the refugee camps. Since August 30, the Handicap International information centre at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp has reported that at least 1,200 Rohingya women and children have gone missing. Of them, 708 have been found so far. More than 500 are still missing. “On the complaint of the Rohingya people, we have started an information booth. Mostly, children are going missing. We have found 708 Rohingya women and children and handed them over to their relatives. Around 500 are still missing,” said Abdullah Al Masud, the disability officer of Handicap International.

Of the missing people, 80 per cent are children (aged below 18 years). “Most of these children went missing when their parents left them to go looking for relief,” said Masud.

Four children are in the custody of Handicap International. They are Hasina,7, Abdul Haque, 12, Tahura, 10, and a child of about two. There is no trace of their parents.

A group is allegedly trafficking in Rohingya women and children.

Over the last few years, many Rohingya women and children have been trafficked to different parts of the country and abroad. The Bangladesh Counter-trafficking in Persons, a project of the Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) in Cox’s Bazar, is trying to bring back two Rohingya children who were trafficked to India. These two children had entered Bangladesh along with their parents in 2016, said YPSA sources.

From the data, it was found that from September 7 to 9, 228 missing persons were reported. Of them, 111 were female and 117 were male, while 153 were aged below 18 and 75 above 18.

The Handicap International data says that they found 175, while 53 remain missing.

Like the Kutupalong refugee camp, there are camps at Balukhali, Leda, Nayapara, Shamlapur, Hakimpara, Mainnerghona, Burma-para, Raikhonh, Rubber Garden, and Jamtoli.

Hamida Begum, 22, who fled Merullah of Maungdaw and took shelter at the Kutupalong refugee camp, lost her son while crossing the border earlier this month.

“We were planning to cross the border through Lambabeel in Teknaf. We were crossing the Naf River in a boat. But it was overloaded and we had to get off. We sent my five-year-old son Hassan with my mother first. After they crossed the river, the boat came back to us after an hour. While crossing the river, we were stopped by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). About three hours passed. Finally, when we reached the other bank, I found my mother. But my son was lost,” she narrated.

“I have been looking for him everywhere—Balukhali, Kutupalong, Nayapara, and Raikhong. But I have found no trace of him,” she wept.

Like Hamida, many Rohingyas are gathering at the Handicap International booths daily to look for their near and dear ones. Even on Thursday afternoon, announcements were being made for two children—Md Riaz, 4, and Hasina, 7. In the evening, Riaz’s mother Chhenowara Begum came and took him home. “I lost my son in the morning. I looked for him everywhere and found him here,” she said. A man named Md Osman complained that his 12-year-old girl went missing from the camp five days ago. A woman complained that her seven-year-old girl has been missing for two days.

However, law enforcement agencies claimed that they are not aware of these complaints. “We are alert about possibilities of trafficking. Our intelligence branches are also actively trying to prevent such incidents. However, I don’t have any information on any trafficking incident,” said Dr Iqbal Hossain, the Cox’s Bazar superintendent of police.

Jean Jacques Simon, the head of Communication of UNICEF, said they do not have the number of missing persons, but admitted that there remains a possibility of trafficking amid the grave humanitarian crisis.

“There may be cases of sexual abuse, exploitation, and child labour. We need to protect the children who are coming (from Myanmar),” he added.

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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