Anti-Trafficking Working Group (ATWG) Terms of Reference (ToR) Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. In particular for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Some Bangladeshi men and women who migrate willingly to work in the Middle East, Southern and East Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States face conditions indicative of forced labour. Before their departure, many migrant workers assume debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to BAIRA and illegally by unlicensed sub-agents; this places migrant workers at risk of debt bondage. Some recruitment agencies and agents also commit recruitment fraud, including contract switching, in which they promise one type of job and conditions but then change the job, employer, conditions, or salary after arrival. Women and girls who migrate for domestic work are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Some women who migrate through Bangladeshi recruitment agencies to Lebanon or Jordan for domestic work are sold and transported to Syria and subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Some women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in India and Pakistan.1 In 2018 the Government of Bangladesh launched a National Plan of Action for Combating Human Trafficking, expanding on a 2012 Plan to encompass all types of internal and cross border human trafficking. The Plan also seeking to address limitations of previous efforts including Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi (migrants and refugees). The Constitution of Bangladesh further commits to prevent violations of human rights in general including all forms of human trafficking. Moreover, Bangladesh is committed to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since trafficking of women and girls is a form of violence, and as such, responses to trafficking must be connected to the broader targets of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls; in particular goals 5, 11 and 16. However, implementation of this Plan and applicable laws as well as the SDG goals have been impeded by inadequate resources, capacity and institutional follow up.
Given the fluid transnational nature of human trafficking in Bangladesh, it is also important to connect the response in and around the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, to the wider country context and existing coordination and response capacity. Since 25 August 2017, an estimated 730,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to more than 908,000. New arrivals are living in spontaneous settlements in high need of humanitarian assistance. The challenging situation faced by both the Rohingya refugees and the host communities and a lack of general awareness of the risks associated with human trafficking in the camps, and effective remedial or prevention measures have created favourable conditions for criminal networks to strengthen their presence and expand recruitment. Combined with on-going issues such as limits to freedom of movement, insecurity, limited livelihoods and educational opportunities as well as the breakdown of protective social networks, and discrimination of certain communities – human trafficking poses a critical threat to safety, dignity and the well-being of refugees and Bangladeshi nationals.
The Rohingya refugee community’s lack of status and inability to formally engage in work significantly increases their vulnerability to human trafficking. Rohingya women and girls are reportedly recruited from refugee camps for domestic work in private homes, guest houses, or hotels and are instead subjected to sex trafficking. Rohingya girls are also reportedly transported within Bangladesh to Chittagong and Dhaka and transnationally to Kathmandu and Kolkata and subjected to sex trafficking—some of these girls are “traded” between traffickers over the internet. Some Rohingya women and girls report being subjected to sex trafficking by other Rohingya through fraudulent job or marriage proposals. Rohingya girls and boys are recruited from refugee camps to work as shop hands, fishermen, rickshaw pullers, and domestic workers in Bangladesh. Although it is reported that they are promised monthly wages ranging from 1,5002,000 BDT ($18-$24), these children, women and girls are paid significantly less or not at all and in most cases are not allowed to communicate with their families while being subjected to excessive working hours. Some Rohingya men are subjected to debt bondage if they place their shelter on Bangladeshi fishermen’ land. Some Rohingya men who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar decades ago have been trapped in debt bondage to Bangladeshi fishermen for 20 years. In the recent past, some Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who travelled by boat to Southeast Asian countries were subjected to exploitation when they were unable to pay ransom and were instead sold into forced labour.2 Moreover, reports of young girls making onward journeys to Malaysia for marriage purposes and subsequently subjected to abuse have also been reported. Reports of young boys travelling to Malaysia to pursue work or education have also been reported; placing them at heightened risk of trafficking and exploitation.