Missing Rohingya women said to have been trafficked from Indonesia to Malaysia

A Rohingya refugee at the makeshift camp in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia, where over 100 refugees remain of the nearly 400 who arrived in boat landings last June to September.
A Rohingya refugee at the makeshift camp in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia, where over 100 refugees remain of the nearly 400 who arrived in boat landings last June to September.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LHOKSEUMAWE (Indonesia) • Scores of Rohingya women missing from a refugee camp in Indonesia have been trafficked into Malaysia to reunite with their husbands, several sources told Agence France-Presse.

Just over 100 refugees remain at the camp in Lhokseumawe on the northern coast of Sumatra island, well down from the almost 400 who arrived in separate boat landings between June and September last year.

Neither the local authorities nor the United Nations could account for the whereabouts of the women, who are feared to have enlisted traffickers to help them cross the Malacca Strait into Malaysia.

"They talked with their husbands on the phone and made arrangements," said Mr Namashah, whose own reunification with his wife and daughter was reported in an AFP series on trafficking networks.

Relatively affluent Muslim-majority Malaysia is the main destination for Rohingya fleeing sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh set up to house them after a bloody crackdown by Myanmar's military drove them into the poor South Asian country.

"We heard that some traffickers went to camp, took money and then helped the women escape," he added.

Some of the women had since called friends in the Lhokseumawe camp to say they had reunited with their husbands, Mr Namashah said, but others may have fallen into more dire circumstances.

"Some are missing and we don't know what happened, whether they got there or were sold by traffickers," he added.

"We've heard some are with their husbands and others got caught," said Ms Fatimah Azizulhaq.

At least 18 Rohingya from the camp and over a dozen suspected smugglers were recently caught by police in Medan, a staging point for illegal crossings into Malaysia.

A Myanmar military crackdown in 2017, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide, forced 750,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into the Bangladesh district of Cox's Bazar. Many ended up in sprawling refugee camps.

Thousands have since paid smugglers to get them out of Bangla-desh, enduring months-long sea journeys punctuated by illness, beatings by traffickers and near-starvation rations to reach Indonesia and Malaysia.

More than 100,000 Rohingya are in Malaysia, registered as refugees but not allowed to work, forcing the men into illegal construction and other low-paid jobs. Some of the men pay smugglers to bring over their families, or new brides from arranged marriages.

A camp dweller, Mr Asmot Ullah, said there were "parents crying in Bangladesh because they borrowed money to send their kids to Malaysia, but they reached Indonesia" instead.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2021, with the headline 'Missing Rohingya women said to have been trafficked from Indonesia to Malaysia'. Subscribe