NUH, India – Sold for $130 to work as a rag picker in the northern Indian town of Mathura, Rohingya refugee Abdul Rahman lived in a tenement of stitched together polythene bags and pined for his home and the lush farmland he owned in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
When he was rescued, Rahman moved to a Rohingya settlement that he thought was the closest he could get to home, along with seven other families of rescued bonded workers who were also trafficked from a refugee camp in Bangladesh and sold in India.
“But I have no place to stay here. In Mathura, I had a roof over my head and the employer gave us food to eat,” Rahman, 45, a father of four who spoke longingly of his home in Myanmar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The agent had promised me a good life in India. I believed him. I was not scared when I crossed over to India,” he said squatting on the floor at the settlement in Mewat, about 100 km (62 miles) south of New Delhi.
While the United Nations (U.N.) has warned that refugee camps in Bangladesh are fertile territory for human traffickers, cases of enslavement in India have only started to emerge recently with the rescue of Rohingya bonded workers.
India banned bonded labor in 1976, but it remains widespread with millions working in fields, brick kilns, brothels or as domestics to pay off debts.
Unlike Indians, who can claim cash compensation, land and housing from the government after being rescued from bondage, campaigners fear pursuing Rohingya cases as most of them entered India illegally and could face action.
In a fast-growing refugee crisis, almost 870,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, including about 660,000 who arrived after Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the army launched a counter-offensive.
Their influx into India started years earlier, with close to 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country after fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar over the last decade.
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