NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A dozen Rohingya refugees, including teenagers, have been rescued from a suspected human trafficking operation, police in India said on Monday, after the group entered the country from Bangladesh without valid travel documents.
Acting on a tip-off from local charities, police in the northeastern state of Mizoram raided the house of a woman on Sunday to find the Rohingya refugees - that police suspect were going to be trafficked onwards to Malaysia or Taiwan.
“They had no valid permits, but we couldn’t arrest them because we realised they are victims of human trafficking,” said Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, the deputy inspector general in Mizoram’s capital city of Aizawl.
The group comprised eight women, aged between 16 and 22, and four boys, whose ages could not be confirmed, he said.
“We have arrested one of the perpetrators, the woman who was sheltering them ... she is being questioned,” he said, without giving further details as an “investigation is underway”.
The woman told police that she was providing shelter to the Rohingya refugees as a favour to her cousin in Myanmar.
It has been nearly two years since more than 730,000 mainly Muslim Rohingya fled persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar and set up camps across the border close to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s top tourist location.
The camps, sprawled over about 6,000 acres - just under half the size of Manhattan - have become more organised, but police activity suggests the risk of being trafficked has grown due to false promises of work and better lives offered by traffickers.
In the latest incident, the Rohingya refugees left Bangladesh and were trafficked to the northeastern Indian state of Assam to enter Mizoram, a senior police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
“From here, they would have been taken to Myanmar and then probably put on a boat to Malaysia or Taiwan to work as maids or labourers or maybe much worse,” the officer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He said the Rohingya women and children were being kept at shelter homes under the protection of the state’s social welfare department while police were in talks with Bangladesh to send them back to the refugee camps.
Records from law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh show at least 100 Rohingya refugees have been rescued from traffickers this year in Cox’s Bazar, with most trying to get to Malaysia.
But human rights campaigners say the number is just a fraction of the Rohingya refugees affected by human trafficking.
The Bangladesh government has not released an official figure for the number of Rohingya who have been trafficked.
Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji in New Delhi, Additional reporting by Naimul Karim in Dhaka, Editing by Jason Fields ; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories