They claim the refugees are turning to robbery, drug trafficking, and prostitution
Many locals of Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas are feeling unsafe because of the presence of thousands of Rohingyas that they had welcomed on humanitarian grounds.
Most of the locals link an increased Rohingya presence to social degradation and criminal activities in their areas.
They think that due to the inability of the Rohingya to find legal employment to cover their needs, they are turning to illicit trade and acts like robbery, drug trafficking, and prostitution.
Following a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that began on August 25 last year, more than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly women and children, fearing for their lives, crossed over to Bangladesh.
They joined more than 400,000 others who were already living in squalid, cramped, refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Xchange, a research organization on migration, interviewed 1,708 locals in the Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, in June and July, to understand locals’ perception of the Rohingyas.
They also conducted in-depth interviews of six locals who have strong education backgrounds, are working for national or international NGOs, or are working in government institutions—in the two upazilas where the majority of the displaced Rohingyas live.
Around 85% of the interviewees said they did not feel safe with Rohingya refugees living nearby. This was true for both sexes and residents of both upazilas.
It should be noted that only two percent of residents in Nhilla union and six percent in the Whykong union –which have significant Rohingya populations – reported feeling safe in the presence of the refugees. However, the percentage is higher – 14% to 37% – in other unions.
Most of the respondents who voluntarily participated in the survey, believed that the crime rate had increased since the arrival of the Rohingyas.
A 30-year-old female resident of Teknaf’s Nhilla union said: “Most Rohingyas are illiterate—hence some notorious local people encourage them to get involved in crime. As a result, crime has increased in our society.”
A 27-year-old local of Teknaf’s Whykong union said the recent Rohingya influx has deteriorated culture and morals.
A Field Assistant of Baharchhara said the Rohingyas are rapidly expanding their families— raising security concerns among the locals.
Interestingly, 16% of people living in Nhilla and Whykong perceived that crime increased 8% more than in other unions—when compared to their unions.
The survey quoted Rumana, an information service provider, as saying: “If a huge population is constrained to an area for a long time, then crime might occur because of the need for food and shelter. Recently, such problems have been occurring in this area.”
She said drugs, which come from Myanmar and are trafficked through Teknaf and Ukhiya, are a major problem.
“When the Rohingyas came to Bangladesh, they had some money or assets with them. But a few days later, the assets had exhausted. The relief which is given to Rohingyas is basically food. But they want to lead a better life and earn money. For this reason, they get involved in various types of crime,” she said.
Another service provider at Baharchhara, Shameem, said: “Actually, NGOs are giving essentials to the Rohingyas—but not cash. As a result, girls are getting involved in prostitution with local boys.”
A 35-year-old Bangladeshi female echoed this.
She said: “The Aid which the international community sends for the Rohingyas is insufficient. This is why they get involved in crimes like prostitution, drugs, and human trafficking.”
She said the Rohingya are vulnerable to exploitation by locals due to their lack of education.
Some respondents said the forcibly displaced Rohingya can be lured into crime as they have no moral or institutional education, and some local Bangalis are taking advantage of this situation.
The respondents claimed that the Rohingyas are also involved in smuggling in yaba from Myanmar.
A 40-year-old local woman suggested: “Rohgingya girls and women should be aware of their rights to live a healthy life so that they are not persuaded by miscreants who want to take advantage of them.”