Despite the tightening of security in Dhaka's diplomatic zone, the number of foreign tenants has severely declined in the Gulshan area following the terror attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery on the night of July 1 last year.
As a result, a significant number of apartments and houses in Gulshan remain unoccupied, with many Bangladeshi tenants unwilling to pay the area's high rents.
The government has taken various security measures including the set up of additional police checkpoints, CCTV cameras, as well as special bus and rickshaw services to regain the confidence of potential foreign tenants, but this is yet to yield visible results.
During a spot visit to Gulshan last week, the Dhaka Tribune found a large number of to-let signs displayed in front of flats, apartments and houses, on either their walls or nearby trees.
Multiple to-let signs were found on Road 35, Road 79, Road 43, Road 41, Road 35, Road 32, Road 71 and Gulshan Avenue 2, among others.
The apartment owners have also advertised on social media and newspapers, with some having resorted to trying to sell the flats due to the lack of prospective tenants.
[caption id="attachment_59259" align="aligncenter" width="690"]
File photo Of the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan where Islamist extremists killed 22 hostages, mostly foreigners[/caption]
Flat owners, caretakers, security guards, drivers and others taking care of these empty apartments and houses told the Dhaka Tribune that foreigners no longer feel safe in Gulshan, as they fear the threat of militant attacks.
On the condition of anonymity, an apartment owner on Road 43 in Gulshan 2 said that one of his tenants had informed that they would leave the apartment in June out of this fear stemming from the Holey Artisan attack.
“Maybe the tenant will leave the area, but they don't know where they will go next. We have displayed a to-let sign to try to get a new tenant from June 1,” he said.
Another flat in this same apartment building is set to be empty from May 1, though the flat owner refused to talk to the media about the matter, claiming it was a sensitive issue.
Another building, situated on Road 35 in Gulshan 2, displayed a to-let sign that declared a preference for foreigners and had a large police contingent deployed for security.
Arif Hossain, caretaker of the building, declined to comment and suggested that the reporter contact the mobile phone number displayed on the to-let sign. When contacted, the flat owner’s chauffeur Md Hasan answered and said no apartments were empty, with all 12 having been filled.
“The number of foreign guests is comparatively lower than before the terrorist attack on Holey Artisan Bakery. The foreigners who remained here after the attack are all staying for the purposes of business rather than by choice,” he said.
Regarding the increased police presence, Hasan said they were deployed for security after the Holey Artisan attack, as an official of the United Arab Emirates lives in the building.
Md Hasan subsequently provided a phone number for the flat owner, but there was no response when the number was contacted.
The caretaker of another house, on Road 41, told the Dhaka Tribune that a large number of foreign customers used to go to the Thai Health Care Spa and Salon in the building before the attack.
“After the militant attack, customer presence in the salon has decreased,” he said.
The caretaker added that the presence of foreigners had not only declined in the salon, but that a number of flats in the building were also empty.
However, Shammi, landlady of an apartment building on Road 42, said although one flat has remained empty for the last month, business had not suffered greatly because they rent mostly to Bangladeshis.
“I think there has not been a negative impact on our apartment business because of the Holey Artisan incedent. Every residence in this neighbourhood is now safer: security guards are deployed twenty-four hours a day in each of the buildings,” she said.
Shammi further claimed that foreigners’ fears of coming to Gulshan due to the Holey Artisan terrorist attack were excessive since “militancy is not only a threat in Bangladesh, but all over the world.”
“Law enforcement agencies have found, captured or killed militants in Mirpur, Ashkona, Narayanganj, Chittagong and other areas, but Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Dhanmondi and Uttara- the posh residential areas - are not a sanctuary for such criminals,” she added.
The Gulshan resident further said that as the identities of all tenants were now collected and handed over to the police as instructed, suspicious activity was quickly identified and culprits apprehended.
When contacted, Gulshan police station Officer-in-Charge Abu Bakar Siddique said: “The number of foreigners did indeed decline after the Holey Artisan attack, but their numbers again rose after special security measures were introduced. There are now police checkpoints throughout the Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara diplomatic zone.”
The police official said there were 12 checkpoints within the diplomatic zone.
The OC added that anyone suggesting that the number of foreigners had declined was trying to spread fear among citizens as well as foreign guests.
The deadly Holey Artisan Bakery attack left 23 people dead, including two policemen and 17 foreigners. The five terrorists were also killed during the rescue operation.