The large number of Rohingyas with Bangladeshi passports puts into focus the administrative weaknesses that allowed the Myanmar nationals to illegally obtain passports of another country
Thousands of Rohingyas have used illegally obtained Bangladeshi passports to travel abroad for work.
Although the government holds no data on the exact number of false passports in circulation, Expatriates Welfare Minister Nurul Islam said in April that about 250,000 Rohingyas had gone abroad with Bangladeshi passports.
The minister said Bangladeshi workers are facing an “image crisis” as a result.
“The Rohingyas obtained passports by providing fake documents from local union council chairmen and other local government authorities,” he said. “Many of them are involved in criminal activities abroad.”
The large number of Rohingyas with Bangladeshi passports puts into focus the administrative weaknesses that allowed the Myanmar nationals to illegally obtain passports of another country.
A local broker at Cox’s Bazar passport office told the Dhaka Tribune that an illegal passport costs between Tk60,000 and Tk100,000.
Mosarraf Mia* is one of the Rohingyas who managed to get one. He came from Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2001 and took shelter in Kurupalong registered camp.
He landed a job at a local restaurant within a few months. Over the next decade, he established contacts with locals and a number of government officials, finally acquiring a Bangladeshi national identity card for himself at the end of 2012.
He later obtained a Bangladeshi passport and flew to Saudi Arabia.
Mosarraf’s wife, Khadiza*, fled to Bangladesh in 2002. Now, Khadiza and their two sons also have Bangladeshi NID cards – both the boys were born in Bangladesh and now go to a local school.
Khadiza’s younger brother Shahidullah*, 23, has been studying at a Cox’s Bazar madrasa since 2013. He said many from their village had come to Bangladesh for study.
“Many return home while some others, like me, try to obtain Bangladeshi passports and go abroad,” he said.
Shahidullah’s mother and two other younger brothers have been living in Balukhali Rohingya camp after fleeing Myanmar last year. They have so far avoided biometric registration at the camp.
“Once we are biometrically registered, we will not be able to obtain Bangladeshi NID cards or passports,” he said.
Kajal Sowdagar*, a 45-year-old Rohingya man from Kutupalong camp, came to Bangladesh in 1991. He said getting a Bangladeshi passport was easier before 2000.
“I stayed in Saudi Arabia from 1998 to 2004,” he said. “I am trying to get visa but it has become difficult now.”
Another Rohingya man, Selim*, who fled from Buthiadaung’s Kinisi area, told the Dhaka Tribune that he had travelled to Malaysia on a Bangladeshi passport.
“The Malaysian government sent me back after finding out that I had fake documents,” the 29-year-old said. “I managed to get a Bangladeshi passport as I had good contacts with locals. I am now trying to go to another Muslim country.”
How a passport is obtained illegally
Sultan Ahmed*, a local broker at Cox’s Bazar passport office, described how a passport is obtained illegally.
“We first collect some genuine NID cards of local Bangladeshis who are of the same age as our clients,” he said. “Then, we collect birth certificates from union councils in remote areas with the NID cards. Later, we apply for passport with the genuine NID card, the photo of the NID holder and birth certificate.”
Sultan said they have contacts at the passport office. “My clients go there for biometric registration and taking photos for passports. Some passport officials help us in exchange for money but sometimes when senior officials scrutinize the documents, our clients are caught,” he said.
The broker said they stay away from the passport office during the whole process.
Another broker, Sohel*, said before the introduction of Machine Readable Passports, it was very easy to illegally obtain a passport. “It is now quite hard because of the strict vigilance of the authorities,” he said.
Two Rohingya women who were caught trying to obtain Bangladeshi passports illegally said a local school teacher contacted them and 10 other Rohingyas to offer them Bangladeshi birth certificates in exchange for Tk10,000 to Tk20,000 each.
At the same time, these Rohingyas also contacted another syndicate to obtain passports for Tk40,000 each. They said that there are some syndicates in the camp areas who made such offers.
A Dhaka Tribune investigation revealed that the two Rohingya women used genuine birth certificates and NID cards of two locals named Tayeba and Chenoara. They are the daughters of Rohingya man Oli Ahmad, who came to Bangladesh in 1991. The two imposters are Oli’s relatives.
Cox’s Bazar police and the district administration have found that more than 300 Rohingyas have obtained NID cards illegally since last October. Two passport offices in Chittagong have found over 250 cases where Rohingyas attempted to get Bangladeshi passports with forged documents this year.
The Rohingyas spread to other parts of the country when vigilance in the Chittagong region increased.
Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury said they were conducting thorough examinations before providing anyone with any citizenship documents as the language, culture and approach of the Rohingyas are almost the same as that of the locals.
Cox’s Bazar police chief AKM Iqbal Hossain said: “We are working round the clock to prevent Rohingyas from obtaining Bangladeshi citizenship documents. We are keeping an eye on them.”