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Hundreds of Rohingya missing from Indonesian refugee camp

 Hundreds of Rohingya are missing from a refugee camp in Indonesia and are believed to have been trafficked to neighboring Malaysia, officials and sources said Thursday.

Only 112 refugees remain in the makeshift camp at Lhokseumawe on Indonesia's north coast this week, well below the nearly 400 who arrived between June and September last year.

Neither the local authorities nor the UN were able to account for the whereabouts of the refugees from Myanmar's stateless Muslim minority, who are feared to have recruited smugglers to help them cross the Strait of Malacca into Malaysia.

Hundreds of Rohingya missing from Indonesian refugee camp

"We still don't know where they went," said Ridwan Jalil, head of the Rohingya task force in Lhokseumawe. "But they will escape if they find a gap to get out because that is their goal."

A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide, forced 750,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into the southeast Bangladeshi coastal district of Cox's Bazar, where many ended up in sprawling refugee camps.

Since then, thousands of people have paid smugglers to haul them out of Bangladesh, enduring heartbreaking months-long sea voyages marked by disease, beatings by smugglers and near-starvation rations to reach Indonesia and Malaysia.

At least 18 Rohingya from the Lhokseumawe camp and more than a dozen suspected traffickers were recently detained by police several hundred kilometers south in the city of Medan, a frequent stopping point for illegal crossings into Malaysia, authorities said. .

Refugees have been asked not to leave the camp, the UN refugee agency said, given the risks involved in making the trip.

"But (they) left despite our constant efforts to remind them of the danger and risks they might face by leaving, even if they used the services of smugglers," said UNHCR spokeswoman Mitra Suryono.

"But we have to remember that many of (them) have relatives in other countries like Malaysia. That may be one of the reasons why they continued their journey," she added.

Human rights groups blamed the Indonesian government, which drastically reduced security in the settlement when the Rohingya were placed under UNHCR supervision last month.

While Indonesia is not a signatory to an international convention on refugees, the move was a violation of its obligations to protect them, said Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International's office in Indonesia.

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