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Comic fights trafficking in Rohingya camps

  • Published at 06:25 pm June 23rd, 2018
An image from a comic to raise awareness of human trafficking in Rohingya refugee camps, published by the International Organization for Migration in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, June 22, 2018 IOM

Traffickers prey on the desperation of refugees, who may fall for false offers of work in Bangladesh and overseas

For the young Rohingya woman, an offer to work at a beach resort sounded like a lifeline for her desperate family in a refugee camp. Instead, she found herself trapped in a brothel and forced into sex work.

Not your usual comic book story - but a common enough tale of human trafficking.

The story is one of three, based on true experiences, depicted in comic books that were launched on Friday to raise awareness of the risk of human trafficking in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.

The comics are published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations body that says it has helped more than 76 victims of trafficking in the past year.

"We believe this reflects only a tiny fraction of the overall number of people affected," said Fiona MacGregor, a spokeswoman for IOM in Cox's Bazar.

About a million Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled Myanmar during decades of persecution. About 700,000 arrived in the final four months of 2017 alone, fleeing military operations against Rohingya insurgents.

Myanmar has denied strong evidence that its soldiers committed widespread atrocities against civilians, including massacres and mass rapes.

The influx last year created a humanitarian crisis that overwhelmed aid agencies overseeing teeming camps, which are now threatened by landslides, flooding and disease with the arrival of the monsoon rains.

Traffickers prey on the desperation of refugees, who may fall for false offers of work in Bangladesh and overseas.

MacGregor said it was "vital" to raise awareness.

"The comic is a way to reach people, regardless of whether they can read, and show them the dangers of trafficking so they understand the risks they and their families face and know how to avoid them," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Men are most likely to be forced to do manual labour or fishing, while women and girls are often trafficked into households as unpaid domestic workers, said MacGregor.

"Because much of this type of work is carried out behind closed doors, these women and girls are often particularly isolated and vulnerable to exploitation and physical and sometimes sexual abuse," she said.

One of the comic books tells the story of 8-year-old "Mahira," who was encouraged by her family to take up work as a care giver for a baby. She was made to work long hours in a household in a nearby town, and was beaten when the baby cried.

In the third book, a Rohingya man accepts an offer to work overseas and finds himself trapped in a shipping container in an unknown country. His family can hear his cries as his abductors brutally beat him, while demanding ransom money.