The arrival of Rohingya refugees has thrown the lives of Ukhiya and Teknaf residents into disarray in Cox’s Bazar, through which members of the ethnic minority are entering Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to escape persecution.
Locals are complaining about hike of prices of essentials and transport fares, damage to environment and spread of diseases, with the arrival of the refugees.
With an area of about 651sq kilometers, the two upazilas have about half a million inhabitants. Currently, an estimated one million Rohingya are staying there – outnumbering locals two to one.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since late August while thousands are waiting across the border.
Kutupalong Registered Rohingya Camp General Secretary Saiful Islam said: “More Rohingya are coming in, as those staying here are informing their relatives that they are getting relief.”
Although the initial chaos triggered by the influx was tackled by the army, locals said their daily lives had been disrupted ever since.
Prices of daily commodities had more than doubled at several local markets in Ukhiya on Friday. Rafiqul Islam, a trader, claimed that a syndicate of unscrupulous businessmen had hiked the prices soon after the influx.
Commuting has also become costlier. Two months ago, it cost about Tk200 to hire an autorickshaw to travel to Teknaf from Cox’s Bazar but now it costs nearly Tk500, medical representative Sohel Ahmed said.
“Bus fare has also increased,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “The Cox’s Bazar-Ukhiya-Teknaf road is now crammed during peak hours due to relief transport, movement of VIPs and administrative vehicles.”
Autorickshaw driver Motaleb Uddin claimed that he was “charging the passengers a little more” to make up for the lost time on the road.
Madhurchara village’s farmer Baset Ali said the Rohingya refugees had destroyed his paddy fields. “I was compelled to sell my cows to feed my family. The Rohingya have also destroyed my trees planted under social forestation project,” he said.
Baset’s neighbour Mohammad Kobir is also worried about his livelihood after fishing was temporarily banned in the Naf River after the influx. Hemayet, a fisherman from Leda, said: “I have not received any assistance promised by the government.”
Many people – men, women and children – seen sitting beside the road from Ukhiya to Teknaf, are locals.
One of them, Rashida Begum, said: “Our crops were destroyed after the Rohingya came. We are helpless now and have been forced to beg.”
The arrival of the refugees has also affected educational activities as many institutions are allowing the local administration and security personnel to use their rooms, said Ukhiya Degree College teacher Shahid Uddin.
“The students, too, cannot focus on studies because of the ongoing crisis,” he said.
Political science student Arman Babu said their classes had been suspended as many students and teachers were involved in relief distribution.
Porikolpito Cox’s Bazar Andolon’s coordinator Abdul Alim Nobel said: “The government should pay attention to the sufferings of the locals because of the Rohingya influx.”
Several days ago, a Rohingya couple beat up a policeman at Hnila while a local resident was killed by a refugee. There have been reports of the refugees getting involved in illegal activities, raising security concerns among the locals.
Cox’s Bazar Bacaho Andolon General Secretary Ayasur Rahman said: “Ukhiya, Teknaf are having a tough time after sheltering the Rohingya. The entire country will face the consequences if swift steps are not taken to solve the Rohingya issue.”
Palangkhali Union Chairman M Gofur Uddin Chowdhury said the area had about 50,000 residents. “About 400,000 Rohingya have taken shelter here. One can easily guess the situation we are in,” he said. “The locals are suffering the most.”
Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Ali Hossain said the government was working to sort things out. “Everything will be fine.”