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Drug Mules & The Exploited Lives Of Rohingya Women ~ The Displaced People

By Liz Mys
May 18, 2015

Their lives are fraught with vulnerability and exploitation. In the host country Bangladesh, only about 30,000 Rohingyas are officially recognized as refugees – and therefore eligible to receive government and international support. 

Meanwhile the unregistered Rohingya population which is approximately close to 500,000 are left to fend for themselves. 

They do not have any legal status and thus have no access to basic services. 

Such a vulnerable group in focus are the girls and women who are easily taken advantage of by criminal entities or pushed into soliciting in sex trade as their means of survival. 

Having crossed the border through the "Friendship Road" or fleeing and coming through the Naf River by boat, these girls and women become easy target. 

With prostitution and being drug mules, these groups of girls and women become trapped in a life of dark danger. 

Being unregistered and with no legal status, if they get arrested and imprisoned, it is more onerous for unregistered Rohingyas to acquire adequate and fair representation, since only the Registered refugees are somewhat able to access the benefit of legal provisions. Figures reported in Cox's Bazar prisons alone accounts for 88% of the prisoners being Burmese* 

Drug Mules: 
The drug trade of Yaba pills is rampant in the areas where the Refugees relocate after crossing into the country. The drugs are sometimes brought in by Rakhine and Rohingya women who were assured safe passages into the country. 

The local drug peddlers will then call and arrange for the Refugees who are already living in the area to collect the drugs at designated places. These group of Rohingya women are typically around the ages of 20s, 30s, some older, often without a husband and with children to feed. 

According to Mukhima A. 25, who herself has been in prison twice, for each run they are given 1000 yaba tablets and told if they succeeded in delivering the drugs to Chittagong or Dhaka they would get paid 5000 taka each - which is the equivalent of US$64.

The other places they usually deliver to besides Chittagong & Dhaka are Dinazpur, Rajshahi and other areas. 

For them to have a chance to travel, the local drug dealers would have paid the BGB (Border Guard) a bribe to let the girls through at the closest checkpoint. Some of the females can reach their destination and some caught; and it is usually by another Border Guard at adifferent check point and sent to jail. 

Since they are unregistered and have no legal papers, they do not have rights to legal representation and are easily dismissed on their accounts by the drug dealers who operate with no accountability when questioned about their association with the drug dealing. 

Depending on the amount of drugs they carry, if it is over 1000 tablets, the jail term will be 6 months to 1 year and if the numbers are higher the term will be longer up to two years.

The women who carry the drugs, they too gradually become addicted to drugs. Some resort to prostitution too, to feed their addiction.

With life so hard and survival, a struggle, these women tend to go back to the same activities once they are released from prison. 

Their children too suffer most from this vicious cycle of survival and vice. While their mothers are in prison for the drug crime, the children are left to begging and some go into prostitution. 

Teen girls aged between 16 to 25 years onwards are forced into soliciting. Two teenage girls, Laila and Sha, says there is "no other ways except this".

"Pretending to be a couple" to hire a hotel room, their customers are usually drivers and business shop owners from other areas.

They go out at 4pm and return at 9am the next morning. They earn between 500 to 1000 taka per customer. 

Sometimes the men will not pay and will use a blade when the girls demanded the money. 
Once a 22 year old girl named Khatiza Begum was badly burned after they threw acid to the lower part of her body when she asked for her money. 

According to another report, some girls tend to be even younger, between 11 and 16, become sex slaves, segregated in brothels or bawdyhouses in other areas. 

Horror stories reported of them being fed with steroids to make them "more attractive" for customers. 

Asia Khatun, 15 years old, was taken by locals to the Chittagong brothels and she never returned. She had only once contacted her parents, only to tell them that she could never go back to them as she was "already destroyed". 

Many women were taken from the camps after being promised job opportunities in the garments industry, only to be sold to the brothels.

The exploitation of these women and their struggle to survive is most disturbing given that no matter what they do, they do not possess the legal rights nor legal opportunities for employment and basic rightsto education and medical care. 

With international organizations like MSF and Muslim Aid UK recently expelled from camps, it creates a vacuum, health concerns aplenty, an even dire condition on top of a desperate struggle to survive. 

The most basic and humanely gesture is to grant the Rohingyas political asylum and accorded Refugee status without withholding humanitarian assistance. With legal refugee status, it would be more sensible to allow, with freedom of movement to let them leave to better opportunities and be employed, thus reducing the desperate and dangerous ways for them to barely survive. 

-Liz Mys

Note: The UDHR provides for the right to liberty and security of every person. As a member of the international community and as a signatory to the UDHR, Bangladesh is under obligation to prevent torture, cruel and inhuman punishment. This means Bangladesh must maintain the minimum standard in the treatment of asylum seekers, provide reasonable support and not deny the rights of the asylum seekers as humans in danger. (*ibid art 5)

#• Web References & Further Reading :

- Women and Children Repression Act 2000.
- Ibid art 5. Ibid Clause 2 & 4.
- UDHR Art. 3.
- Convention on Rights of Children (CRC) 1989 Art. 22.
- UN Document no. CEDAW/c/BGD/CO/6, para 37
- Arts.27,30 and 25 Constitution of Bangladesh. Article 18 (2) Bangladesh Constitution - places a duty upon the State to prevent prostitution 

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