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Amnesty: Ensure safety of Rohingyas amid clashes in Cox’s Bazar camps

  • Published at 02:45 pm October 9th, 2020
Rohingya camp
File photo of a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

At least eight people have been killed and hundreds of others injured in camps in Cox’s Bazar since Sunday, according to Amnesty

UK-based human rights watchdog Amensty International has urged the Bangladesh authorities to ensure the safety of Rohingya refugees in the camps in Cox's Bazar, following violent clashes between armed criminal gangs.

Since Sunday, at least eight people have been killed and hundreds of others were injured in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Amnesty said in a press release on Friday.

At least 2,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee their shelters to other camps when violence broke out between two rival factions seeking control of the illicit trade in contraband drugs in the camps, the statement said.

On Wednesday, around a dozen shelters in Kutupalong refugee camp were burned to the ground, it added.

“The situation inside the camps is highly precarious and, unless the authorities take the necessary action to quell the violence and protect refugees, there is a serious risk of further bloodshed,” said Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner.

“Those suffering most are the Rohingya refugees caught in the middle. The Bangladeshi authorities must heighten security inside the camps as long as necessary to ensure their safety and launch an immediate and impartial investigation into the violence to bring those responsible to justice,” Hammadi added.

Drug cartel inside camps

Quoting Rohingya refugees, Amnesty said the clash broke out between a group that had been operating a drug cartel within the refugee camp and another armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) as they vied for control of the camps. 

The violence reportedly started after negotiations over a partnership between the two groups broke down. Local media reports said both groups had been using locally made guns and iron bars.

On Tuesday, the Bangladeshi authorities dispatched additional security personnel to the camps, but violent clashes have continued.

Last month, AKM Mozammel Huque, president of the Ministry of Home Affairs' law and order committee, said watchtowers and closed circuit television cameras would be installed to increase surveillance inside the camps.

According to Rohingya refugees who spoke to Amnesty International, the violence was sparked in part by a battle for control over the illegal trade in yaba or methamphetamine, a recreational drug manufactured in Myanmar and smuggled into Bangladesh. 

In light of the Bangladeshi government’s ongoing crackdown on the illegal drug trade, which includes allegations of extrajudicial executions, there are fears among refugees that the intensifying clashes are putting everyone in the camps at even greater risk, Amnesty said in its statement.

According to Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar, more than 100 Rohingya refugees have been killed in alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, purportedly in crackdowns on the illegal drug trade in Cox's Bazar.

“The authorities should not take any measures that violate the human rights of the refugees. The violence is being committed by people belonging to criminal gangs, who should be held to account in fair trials for violent crimes,” Hammadi said.

Rohingya refugees are also afraid that the Bangladesh government could use the ongoing violence as a pretext to relocate them to Bhashan Char, a remote silt island in the Bay of Bengal that has yet to complete the United Nations' assessment for safe habitation, Amnesty said. 

“Relocating the refugees to Bhashan Char will neither end their current insecurity, nor bring about a durable solution to the refugee crisis. Instead, authorities must engage with the Rohingya refugees, take note of their concerns, and ensure participation in the decisions that affect them,” Hammadi said.

Bangladesh hosting over 1.1m Rohingyas

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar district and most of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, amid a military crackdown on Rohingyas in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

More than 740,000 Rohingyas fled their homes in Myanmar after the country’s military committed criminal atrocities against the minority group in retaliation against a series of attacks committed by ARSA fighters on 30 Myanmar security posts, on August 25, 2017. 

Rohingya refugees told Amnesty International that they are worried about their safety due to the presence of ARSA, as well as other criminal gangs in the camps that continue to operate and expand their network through the illicit trade of arms and contraband drugs.

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