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The life of a Rohingya yaba courier

  • Published at 01:17 am August 21st, 2018
Motaleb Miah, the yaba courier, during the interview
Motaleb Miah, the yaba courier, during the interview Mahmud Hossain Opu

Miah earns Tk5,000 for carrying 1,000 yaba pills from a Rohingya camp to a peddler in Cox’s Bazar

During an independent investigation conducted in different refugee camps, the Dhaka Tribune has found evidence of at least several hundred Rohingya carrying and peddling yaba in the region.

These forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens are engaged in couriering the yaba pills from the border to Cox’s Bazar — and then to others parts of Bangladesh.

The Dhaka Tribune managed to get in touch with one such courier and learned intricate details of the seedy world of drug-smuggling.


Late August 2017, small groups of Rohingya refugees begin showing up at the Bangladesh border in Cox's Bazar. As the trickle of humans becomes a torrent, tales of terrible slaughter and ethnic cleansing reach the world's ears. Within the next few months, more than 700,000 people would flee the violence in Rakhine and take shelter in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

What has changed in this one year in the lives of the refugees? In the lives of the people who shelter them? How far are we from achieving safe repatriation and basic human dignity for these people? Keep an eye on the Dhaka Tribune newspaper and the website, for a series of in-depth stories that explore these issues and more, starting August 25.


‘Just for survival’

Motaleb Miah (not his real name), a 45-year-old man, lives in one of the Rohingya camps in the Cox’s Bazar district. He is one of the men who act as a yaba courier.

He had an hour-long chat with our correspondent on August 9, at a hotel room in Cox’s Bazar.

When asked about his particularly dangerous,and illegal, profession, after a few seconds of silence, Motaleb admitted that he is well aware of the penalties and consequences of such criminal acts in Bangladesh.


“I courier yaba pills from theRohingya camps to Cox’s Bazar, and I earn enough money just to survive. If only I could save up some cash, I could leave this life of crime and get legitimate work. I cannot just do regular work for money, because we are not allowed outside of the camps,” he said.

Motaleb continued: “I do not smuggle yaba pills, I just act as a courier between drug peddlers. I am concerned about the legal consequences of my actions, because I heard the drug laws in Bangladesh are strict. I have heard about killings by gunfight and years of imprisonment.”

Providing details about the drug trade in refugee camps, Motaleb said: “I earn money based on the size of yaba consignments. For carrying 1,000 yaba pills from a Rohingya camp to a peddler in Cox’s Bazar, I earn Tk5,000, which I use to take care of my family.”

From family man to drug courier

Motaleb, who hailed from Maungdaw'sBolibazar village, has a wife and three children. He fled Myanmar with his family in October, 2016, and started living at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp.

Continuing his tale, Motaleb said: “We could not tolerate the torture the Mogh community was inflicting on us, so we fled to Bangladesh with many others. When we arrived here, we faced an acute shortage of essential supplies such as food.

“After a few days, we visited the Kutupalong area and hid ourselves. Eventually we received shelter at the refugee camp. There was also a shortage of food at the camp. I tried to launch a business, but could not do so because of financial issues.”

He added: “When we fled Myanmar, we could not take money or valuables with us, as we were escaping for our lives.”

Facing such dire circumstances, Motaleb mixed with bad company.

Motaleb said: “I met some people who were engaged in illegal activities. I learned about how they procure yaba pills, how they consume them, and how they deliver them to the all corners of the country. I have seen those people make hefty profits from this illegal trade.

“These people, who introduced me to the world of narcotics trade, were also Rohingyas. They procure yaba from Myanmar, and then supply them to Bangladeshi peddlers. The peddlers use people like me as couriers.”

Delivering illegal drugs

Describing the method of couriering yaba from camps to Cox’s Bazar, Motaleb said: “The peddlers hand over the yaba pills to me deep inside the camp, and we use various methods to carry the consignment to its destination. Sometimes, I hide them in my shoes.

“I have to walk through hilly areas until I reach the marine drive. After that, I can get to Cox’s Bazar easily. There is, however, a risk of getting caught anytime, but I have avoided capture so far.”

He continued: “There is no set place for my deliveries. I just follow instructions and deliver yaba pills where they tell me to. Areas such as Baharchara and Fishery Ghat are the most common delivery places.”

“Returning to the camp is much easier. I get on any Teknaf-bound bus from Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf Road, stop at Kutupalong Bazar, and return to my camp. To avoid guards’ suspicion of my late arrival, I usually buy groceries and carry them into the camp.”

Responding to a question, Motalebcommented that there are around 400-500 yaba couriers like him living indifferent Rohingya camps — while around 20-25 Rohingya peddlers visit the border region regularly to smuggle in the illegal drug.

At first the drug courier denied visiting the border to smuggle in yaba pills, but after a few moments, Motaleb admitted that he has been to the border region to smuggle yaba twice in the past eight months.

Giving more details, Motaleb said: “The couriers are not connected with each other, as it helps them avoid detection and surveillance by the authorities.

“At one time I was visiting the Sabrang area of Teknaf upazila. We saw the police approaching to conduct a search on my way home.My associates and I dodged the police by jumping off the vehicle. Sometimes, we are informed beforehand about impending police checks.”

He continued: “The couriers carry the illegal drugs to their destination on foot, in rickshaws, by three-wheeler,and by motorcycles.Buses and microbuses are subjected to regular checks on the roads.”

‘I am not optimistic’

Motaleb became a yaba courier in mid-2017. He has already delivered 20-25 consignments of yaba pills since then.

He told the Dhaka Tribune: “Sometimes I carry a yaba consignment once a month, sometimes twice a month,and sometimes once every week. There is no fixed schedule.

“I earn around Tk8,000 to Tk10,000 on average each month. However, there are months when I cannot make any moneyat all. I borrow money from others when I face such a financial crisis.I have no vices. Every Taka I earn, I spend on my family.”

Motaleb claims not to be addicted to yaba, saying: “I just smoke cigarettes and nothing else. But I sometimes I take yaba pills when hanging out with my friends.”

With regret in his voice for engaging in criminal acts, Motaleb told the correspondent: “I do not like what I do. My financial crisis forced me to engage in criminal acts that regularly put my life at risk. I must take care of my family.

“I live in constant fear of:being discovered as a yaba courier, being arrested, mob beatings, or losing my life in a gunfight. I want a way out, but I cannot see any way to leave this life.”

Commenting about the repatriation process, Motaleb said: “I have heard that Myanmar’s government will take us back, but I am not very optimistic about it.

“If it really happens, I will go back to my country. We face so many restrictions here. In my homeland, we would have land and property.”

If the repatriation process does not go through as planned, then Motaleb wishes to leave his life as a yaba courier after save a good amount of money.