Members of the Rohingya Muslim minority who have fled violence in Myanmar to Bangladesh, were being targeted by human traffickers, according to UN agencies.
"The UN Migration Agency (IOM) has found that human trafficking and exploitation is rife among Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh," Xinhua news agency quoted UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, as saying on Tuesday.
"This is according to interviews and focus groups they've been conducting in Cox's Bazar," he said, referring to where makeshift refugee camps were established in southeastern Bangladesh, neighbouring Myanmar's Rakhine state.
"Exploitation has been reported among Rohingya refugees not only among those who arrived since August 25 this year but also among those who have lived in Bangladesh for years. The IOM says that desperate refugees are being recruited with false offers of paid work.
"With almost no alternative source of income they are willing to take whatever opportunity they are presented with, even if they are risky, dangerous ones that involve their children.
"The agency is also concerned about forced and early marriages taking place among the Rohingya refugee population."
Dujarric said the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has increased to 618,000 over the weekend.
All tolled, there were more than 800,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Desperate men, women and children were being recruited with false offers of paid work in various industries including fishing, small commerce, begging and, in the case of girls, domestic work, the IOM said.
Once they start the job, they usually find that they are not paid what was promised, it said.
They are often deprived of sleep, made to work more hours than was agreed, not allowed to leave their work premises and not allowed to contact their family. Women and girls are often physically or sexually abused.
Kateryna Ardanyan, an IOM counter-trafficking expert currently deployed in Cox's Bazar, said: "In the chaos of a crisis like this, trafficking is usually invisible at first, as there are so many other urgent needs like food and shelter. But agencies responding to this crisis should not wait until the number of identified victims increases.
"Rohingya refugees need preventive and proactive action now to mitigate risks of human trafficking, and the survivors need help, before this spirals out of control."
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