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Dhaka Tribune

Crime on rise in Cox’s Bazar camps

Law enforcers said some of the unemployed and idle Rohingyas are being drawn into criminal activities for money

Update : 01 Sep 2018, 01:00 AM

A number of Rohingyas are engaging in different criminal activities inside the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar since their basic needs have almost been met, police have warned. 

Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state began on August 25 last year. They joined 400,000 Rohingyas who had previously come to Cox’s Bazar.

Law enforcers said some of the unemployed and idle Rohingyas are being drawn into criminal activities for money.

“The Rohingyas are not concerned about their food and accommodation as the aid agencies are providing them with everything they need,” Md Saiful Hasan, senior assistant superintendent of police (ASP) for Cox’s Bazar district, said. “So a big portion of Rohingya youths remain idle and become engaged in domestic violence, internal feuds, and gender-based violence.”

After sunset, nobody, other than designated law enforcers, has the access to the camps. Police say this is when the criminals among the Rohingyas start their illegal activities. 

According to Cox’s Bazar police, there have been 22 murders in the Rohingya camps in the past 12 months, as well as 80 drug-related cases.

During this period, police arrested more than 1,000 Rohingyas for various crimes which also include smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution. A total of 563 Rohingyas have been sentenced.

Ukhia Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Md Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury, under whose jurisdiction 75% of Rohingyas are sheltered in 20 camps, said: “Some Rohingyas are involved in various offences and  get used by local criminal syndicates.”

Soon after the start of the influx, security experts warned that some of the Rohingyas might become engaged in crime. 

“Bangladesh, possibly, will face more social threats than security threats from the refugees,” Security Specialist and former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune after the start of the influx last year.

Transit point for yaba smuggling

It has emerged that many Rohingyas are smuggling yaba pills from Myanmar’s border areas into the camps for storage, before they can be moved on to Cox’s Bazar and other parts of Bangladesh.

Rohingya yaba carrier Motaleb Mia (not his real name) said he knows 20-22 Rohingyas who are involved in yaba smuggling.

“The smugglers hand yaba pills to the mules in the deeper parts of the camps, who carry them to Cox’s Bazar,” Motaleb said. 

Security forces have seized more than 10 million yaba pills from Rohingyas and local drug peddlers since the beginning of the latest refugee influx.

About 90% of yaba pills are being smuggled into the country via Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Ukhia border crossings, they said.

Yaba storehouses in Rohingya camps

Rohingya sources in the Kutupalang and Balukhali camps said about 200 small huts in the camp are being used as yaba warehouses.

“We have information that some Rohingyas are storing yaba pills in the camps,” Ukhia UNO Nikaruzzaman said. “Efforts are underway to arrest them. We have boosted surveillance in the camps and some mules have already been nabbed.” 

Cox’s Bazar Detective Branch (DB) officials said they have seen many suspected yaba peddlers or mules roaming the camps in Kutupalang, Balukhali and Hnila at dawn.

They estimate that nearly 1,000 of the Rohingyas who have entered the country since August 25 last year are involved in drug-peddling.

“Some of the Rohingyas involved in drug-peddling work for NGOs or independent workers,” a local DB official said, seeking anonymity.

Arms dealing and robbery

Police said many Rohingya youths are involved in arms dealing and robberies. So far, 12 cases have been filed and several arrests have been made.

The Rohingyas, in collaboration with local dealers, get involved with the arms trade in Maheshkhali - the hub of Bangladesh’s local firearms manufacturing.

The police’s counter-terrorism units have information that there are five to six Ak47 rifles circulating in the Rohingya camps.

Robbery occurs in villages surrounding the Nayaparha and Leda refugee camps in Teknaf. Rohingya robber gangs are frequently engaged in infighting.

At night inside the camps, gunshots are often heard.

Murders of Rohingya leaders scare camp dwellers

Many Rohingyas living in the camps have panicked upon hearing that 22 refugees were murdered in the past year. 

Conducted in the dark – and often by groups of men wielding pistols, knives, and sticks – the killings have sent a chill through the camps, which are guarded by the Bangladesh Army during the day but protected by fewer police officials at night.

“The number of the murders might be higher,” said senior ASP Saiful.

Police have made a number of arrests following some of the killings, but the motives of the murders remain unclear. This only adds to the sense of unease felt by the other camp inhabitants. 

Following the murders of three Rohingya leaders in the camps, police suspect there is an ideological conflict among different factions.

The wife of Rohingya leader Arifullah, who was stabbed to death in June, blamed Rohingya militants for the killing.

She said Arifullah was a “critic” of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an insurgent group whose attacks on a number of police and army check posts in Myanmar last August sparked the latest crackdown.

In January, following the murder of two mahjis (camp leaders), ARSA issued a statement in which it denied any involvement in the killings.

Police blame the killings on turf wars and score-settling. The camp dwellers allege that unchecked violence leaves Rohingya families at the mercy of criminals.

“Policing such emergency situations is difficult and crime is unavoidable,” Rohingya leader Mohibullah said.

Bangladesh denies that ARSA militants have a foothold in the camps.

Women and girls become victims

Police say some Rohingyas aligned to Bangladeshi drug and human trafficking gangs have been selling Rohingya women into the sex trade and for use as yaba mules.

Although only two human trafficking cases have been reported in the last year, police officials say the crime is far more widespread as most cases are not reported.

Likewise, the six rape cases lodged in the past year are not representative of the huge scale of the problem. 

“The rape and prostitution cases are not reported, because social stigma leads the Rohingya families to settle matters themselves,” Senior ASP Saiful said.

Surveillance reinforced

Ukhia UNO Nikaruzzaman said they have bolstered supervision and surveillance of the camps in an effort to reduce crime.

Recently, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) installed five more outposts in Cox’s Bazar, to control drug smuggling from neighbouring Myanmar.

Cox’s Bazar’s Superintendent of Police AKM Iqbal Hossain said they have formed a special force of roughly 2,400 men to guard the Rohingyas.

“We have limited manpower to supervise over a million Rohingyas but we are trying our best to keep an eye on their activities,” he said.

Police also installed five outposts in the camp areas, while security agencies run 13 checkpoints at the entrances to the camps.

Senior ASP Saiful said that police had so far intercepted 54,798 Rohingyas who had attempted to escape from the camps via these posts.

Additionally, law enforcers had detained 3,461 Rohingyas from different districts of the country and returned them to the camps.

“Plainclothes police and detectives are monitoring camps regularly,” Saiful said. “Law enforcers are on high alert and Cox’s Bazar has been marked as a high-risk crime zone.” 

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