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Dhaka Tribune

Do authorities have accurate info on criminal organizations operating in Rohingya camps?

  • Intelligence reports mention 450 Arsa members
  • Local Rohingyas say there are thousands of activists
  • 10 criminal groups active in camps
  • Arsa more organized than others 
Update : 26 Aug 2023, 09:26 AM

Information available about the number of active criminal organizations in Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar and the number of their members or followers according to intelligence agencies is not accurate, various organizations in the camps have claimed.

Referring to intelligence reports that mention about 450 Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) followers in the camps, they said these camps, which house hundreds of thousands, cannot be controlled by only a few hundred members.

Meanwhile, the Armed Police Battalion (APBn), which is in charge of law and order in the camps, refused to comment on the number.

Criminal activities out in the open have decreased to a great extent, the agency said. 

However, several APBn members, wishing anonymity, said underground criminal activities have not stopped.


Recent information given by an intelligence officer has raised suspicions whether there are actually only 450 Arsa members in the camps or more.

It is said that 450 Arsa members are active in various Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf. Now they are led by one Ustad Khaled. 

In this situation, law enforcement has increased surveillance throughout the camps.

A shipment of heavy weapons entered Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar at the beginning of last July. Rohingya women and children were used to smuggle these weapons. The shipment of weapons was released under the leadership of Ustad Khaled, a top leader of Myanmar's separatist group Arsa. 

In February, a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Defence revealed that 10 criminal groups are currently active in the Rohingya camps. 

Among these, Arsa is active in Ukhiya, Balukhali, Palongkhali and Whykong. 

The Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the gang of Master Munna are active in Ukhiya and Palangkhali. Islami Mahaj and Jabu gangs are operating in Whykong, and Chakma Gang, Nabi Hussain Gangs, Putia Gangs, Salman Shah Gangs and Khalek Gangs in Nayapara camp.

An Arsa member said Arsa is more organized than other groups. Their organization has many layers. Not even all the layers of work are visible in them. Social media monitoring teams, research teams and even suicide squads are thought to be part of the organization's structure.

Being asked why it is necessary to reserve weapons, student leaders who are involved in various movements said there are various types of insecurity. Those who want to destabilize the camps have geopolitical interests and do drug trade. As a result, there is a matter of showing who dominates the camps.

Statements of Rohingyas

General Rohingyas feel that what is being said in the media about the ongoing situation in the camps is not what happens inside them. 

A source from Balukhali camp called the number of Arsa members trivial and said that it would have been correct to say that this number of members is only in its committee. All kinds of organizations including Arsa and RSO have more than thousands of active workers. 

“Arsa itself has an extensive organizational structure. They have information about every area of the camp. This can be confirmed following an analysis of a recent abduction. Arsa had all the information about the victim. They also know when community leaders change locations,” according to the source. 

A Rohingya teacher thinks that it is important to make the camps more secure. “We are afraid to talk to you by mentioning names. If there were no harassment and intimidation in the camp, then we could speak about our rights. So many small groups have formed… now we do not know whom to trust. Rohingyas are being targeted and killed whenever they get a chance so that they cannot organize and speak for their rights.”

“But the dreadful thing is that the rate of displaying power by some people is higher than before. No one is monitoring them,” he added.

Is it possible to bring the situation under control? 

Sources in Rohingya camps say most of the incidents of violence are taking place among these groups over turf wars, drug trade and extortion. 

According to district police and APBn data, 188 people were killed in 33 Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar from 2017 to July 2023 – most of them by Arsa.

The violence that is happening now is more about establishing dominance. 

Those who oversee the camps said it can be said by observing the pattern of dominance why control is not possible. 

It is now apparent that multiple armed groups are active in the Rohingya camps. 

Cox's Bazar Refugee Relief and Repatriation Additional Commissioner Shamsud Douza said violence is less now than before. 

He said killings and kidnappings have stopped for the past few months. 

However, recently the United Nations reduced food allocation for the Rohingya camps of Ukhiya and Teknaf along with other international donors. Because of this, the Rohingyas are in a financial crisis. 

In March the monthly allocation for the Rohingyas was reduced from $12 to $10. The allocation was further reduced to $8 on June 1. 

This is having a negative impact on nutrition, health and lifestyle in the camps. Some are becoming involved in crimes to make money.

Additional Deputy Inspector General of Police Syed Haroon Or Rashid, chief of the Armed Police Battalion (APBn-14) said Arsa is creating an unstable environment in the camps due to various reasons including dominance and drug trade. 

However, due to the activities of law enforcement, Arsa members are now carrying out sneak attacks, said the APBn officer. 

Overtly criminal activities have decreased to a great extent. In addition, no information was available on political violence in various Rohingya camps, he added.

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