Over 500 yaba smugglers have entered Bangladesh from Myanmar since August 25 by posing as Rohingya refugees, law enforcement agencies have revealed.
The agencies also suspect that an additional 1,000 people who work as mules for these yaba syndicates have also slipped into the country in the past three months.
The continued inflow is hampering the vigilance of security agencies and the work of the local administration, which both fear the smugglers will set up yaba factories in the Rohingya camps and spread their business across Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazar district police sources said in the last three months, a total of 92 cases were filed against 195 Rohingyas who were arrested from Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas for their involvement in drug smuggling.
According to a report published on Tuesday by the Association for the Prevention of Drug Abuse (Manas), about 90% of yaba tablets enter Bangladesh through the Naf River.
“Yaba is being smuggled through 43 points of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border,” said Arup Ratan Chowdhury, the founding president of Manas.
The association’s report, titled “Rohingya crisis and drug addiction: Current scenario”, estimated the value of yaba pills entering the country each year to be Tk350 crore, equivalent to a monthly consignment of almost Tk30 crore.
It said the Bangladesh Ministry of Home Affairs published a list of 764 yaba traders in 2013, and that during the signing of Rohingya repatriation deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal had proposed destroying 49 yaba factories in Myanmar.
“Bangladesh held bilateral meetings with Myanmar to stop the yaba factories in the border areas, but the drug trade has not been stopped yet,” Arup said.
Quoting a source from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Arup said that in 2015, Bangladesh provided Myanmar with a list of 45 yaba factories that were running in the border area, of which only 37 were traced.
These factories were producing 13 kinds of yaba which had reached market in Bangladesh.
The Manas report said yaba pills worth about Tk600 crore were seized by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), police and Department of Narcotics Control in the last nine months.
On November 19, the BGB members recovered 1,200 yaba tablets from some Rohingya men in Anjumanpara border area under Ukhiya upazila.
According to the BGB, the Rohingyas hide the yaba tablets in small-sized packets underground because of fear of getting caught by law enforcement officials.
BGB and local administration sources said a considerable amount of yaba tablets is being seized every day during the security search of the Rohingyas on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
“The ill-motivated people try to expand their business here,” BGB 34 Battalion Commanding Officer (acting) Major Iqbal Ahmed said.
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Seeking anonymity, several high officials of Cox’s Bazar district administration and district police told the Dhaka Tribune that the Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh between August 25 and mid-November had not been checked, which gave the yaba smugglers easy access to the country.
Cox’s Bazar police said the carriers had been involved with yaba trading from before and are taking advantage of the Rohingya crisis to carry out their activities. For the last two decades, they have been bringing the narcotics into Bangladesh through Teknaf and Ukhiya, as well as via Chittagong’s coastal areas.
However, the carriers’ recent movements were temporarily stopped after the local administration took measures to scan the Rohingyas entering the country from Myanmar.
“A total of 200 yaba smugglers have already been jailed. We have also come to know the names of some smugglers and carriers and are trying to apprehend them,” Teknaf Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Zahid Hossain Siddique said.
On October 18, the Department of Narcotic Control’s joint task force raided the house of Teknaf’s Upazila Chairman Jafor Alam, a marked yaba trader, and detained 31 Rohingyas, most of whom are yaba peddlers or carriers.
Since August 25, security agencies have seized more than 500,000 pieces of yaba tablets and arrested 70 people, of whom most are Rohingyas according to Cox’s Bazar district administration.
The smugglers who have already entered Bangladesh are now hiding in the Rohingya camps and committing crimes whenever possible, Cox’s Bazar police sources added.
Teknaf police station Inspector (Operation) Sheikh Ashrafujjaman said: “There is a possibility that the peddlers use the Rohingyas to carry drugs into Bangladesh.”
In 2016, a total of 139 Rohingyas were arrested in 70 cases while in 2015, 290 were arrested in 86 cases for their involvement in yaba trading.
Cox’s Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Afzurul Haque Tutul said: “We are not silent. We have already arrested many Rohingyas for their involvement in such crimes (and) our drive is still on.”
Yaba warehouses in Rohingya camps
Bangladesh’s security agencies have learned that some Rohingyas are entering the country with yaba tablets from Myanmar, and storing them in huts inside the makeshift refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Seeking anonymity, some Rohingyas living in Kutupalang and Balukhali camps said about 200 small huts are being used as yaba warehouses in these two camps.
According to the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, at least 635,700 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh after the violence erupted in Myanmar on August 25.
In the last one-and-a-half months alone, at least 17 Rohingyas were arrested at the camps in possession of over 150,000 yaba tablets.
Ukhiya UNO Md Nikaruzzaman said most of the Rohingyas are sheltered in Ukhiya and with more still arriving, the risks remain.
“They can be involved with different kinds of offences or can be used by other ill-motivated people,” he said.
“We have information that some Rohingyas are trying to store yaba in the camps. We are trying to arrest them but somehow they manage to flee whenever we conduct drives.”
The UNO said some people had been arrested for carrying yaba into the country, while surveillance has been increased in the camp areas.
Cox’s Bazar Detective Branch (DB) of Police Inspector Monirul Islam said: “We are trying to recover the yaba tablets hidden in the camps but it is taking us some time as the area is densely populated.”
DB sources said some unknown youths had been seen roaming around Kutupalang, Balukhali and Hnila camps in private cars and on motorbikes, and they might be connected to the smuggling of the drug.
Requesting anonymity, a DB official said: “The Rohingyas are getting involved in criminal activities for money. Apart from a few law enforcers, no Bangladeshi has access to the camps after the sun goes down. So, the criminal-minded Rohingyas start their businesses in the dark.”
Manas founder Arup Ratan Chowdhury said: “The Rohingya youths first store the yaba tablets in the camps and then smuggle them to different parts of the country at night.”