Human Trafficking Takes Centre Stage in Bangladesh

Counter-Trafficking, Rohingya Crisis

Cox’s Bazar – Bangladesh is boosting efforts to combat human trafficking with a 2018-2022 national plan of action to improve enforcement through better inter-agency coordination, improved training of officers and harmonization of existing laws. 

The plan, developed with technical support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), was presented to local officials and counter trafficking specialists at a conference in Cox’s Bazar this week. It follows legislation passed in 2012 to counter human trafficking in this South Asian country of 160 million.   

Limited socio-economic opportunities drive thousands of Bangladeshis to look for opportunities abroad. But many are believed to fall into the hands of human trafficking networks, ending up in forced labour or other exploitative situations abroad. Trafficking in persons also occurs internally within Bangladesh.  

IOM has a multi-pronged approach based on prevention, protection and prosecution of counter human trafficking that includes supporting the government’s efforts for stronger legislation and enforcement and victim assistance.  

The Cox’s Bazar conference: Orientation on Prevention and Suppression on Human Trafficking Act, 2012 and National Plan of Action 2018-2022 was organized by IOM and supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). DFID supports IOM’s Rohingya Refugee Response in the district, including protection activities linked to countering human trafficking. 

IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh Manuel Pereira told delegates that IOM is working hard to combat human trafficking in Bangladesh. “In Cox’s Bazar, IOM has helped 295 victims of trafficking since 2017. Some 60 per cent were female; 40 per cent were male; and 87 per cent of the total were trafficked for forced labour. But the real numbers are much higher – people don’t come forward and say, ‘we are being trafficked,’” he noted.  

In Cox’s Bazar, human trafficking is an ever-present threat to nearly a million Rohingya refugees living in one of the world’s most densely packed camps.  The impoverished community is fertile ground for criminal trafficking syndicates who lure migrants to work abroad under false pretences.  

IOM protection programme manager Chissey Mueller highlighted the fact that the Bangladeshi government is now leading the way in boosting enforcement. “Local authorities are working together to counter human trafficking – with support from IOM, DFID and others. The laws are now in place – the issue now is filling the gaps, better enforcement and cooperation among authorities, as well as supporting prosecutions,” she said.  

Mueller added that human traffickers often violate multiple domestic laws, including ones addressing forced labour and sexual exploitation. Other countries in both the developing and developed world use national plans of action to facilitate implementation and “bring laws to life” through enforcement on the ground, she noted.   

IOM works in partnership with governments, UN agencies, NGOs, the private sector and development partners on all aspects of counter-trafficking responses – prevention, protection, and prosecution. It maintains the world’s largest trafficking victim database, which contains records of over 50,000 trafficked people assisted by IOM. 

For more information please contact George McLeod, IOM Bangladesh, Tel: + +880 18 7071 8078, Email: 

  • Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar’s vast, impoverished camps are highly vulnerable to human trafficking. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed