What lurks beneath?

The Rohingya refugee camps have a serious narcotics problem

Bangladesh, known for achieving remarkable economic aspirations, has garnered global attention for sheltering over a million Rohingya refugees. But now, issues are surfacing. Sporadic clashes are occurring in the Rohingya camps. The gangs operating in the locality are taking advantage of poor security infrastructure. Drug dealers have carved a smuggling corridor in this locality, as per reports, have started making fortunes out of narcotics.

Bangladesh hosts around 1.2 million refugees in what is now the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp. The camp and bordering areas have turned into a corridor for drug trafficking. The hilly terrain border is accessible and poorly secured. The cases of rape, extortion, trafficking, and murder also seem to be increasing. 

Beside an unhygienic dwelling and lack of proper food and sanitation, the Rohingya are facing a plethora of other issues. Security threats from the drug peddlers and gangs are emerging. The killing of famous Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah in 2021 ignited anger among the refugees as well. Mohammad Shah Ali, brother of ARSA’s leader Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, was arrested in Bangladesh with arms and drugs. The rivalries are ending in arms fighting. After the killing of leaders like Mohib Ullah, Arif Ullah, Abdur Rahim, Noor Alam, and Hamid Ullah, the Rohingya living in Bangladesh are in fear. 

ARSA is also believed to have made contact with extremist outfit JMB. Arms like AK-47s, M-21s, M-22s, and M-16 rifles are in their possession. Without external support, ARSA would not be in a position to acquire such arms. ARSA is not only relying on arms; the outfit is gaining strength by several means.  Over 500 madrassas spread across the Rohingya camps are said to be controlled by an ARSA ally. This will serve the purpose of ARSA to spread propaganda, extend their network, and gain sympathy. 

To decongest the settlement in Cox’s Bazar, the refugees are being relocated to Bhashan Char, an island territory. But some Rohingya are staging protests against relocation. Needless to say, the relocation to Bhashan Char will affect the narcotics business severely. Furthermore, this will make it easier to monitor the security situation in Cox’s Bazar. Interested groups will try their best to stop the process of this re-settlement of the Rohingya.

China has always remained silent on the massacre in Myanmar. It’s obvious that they would veto to save Myanmar. Not even the OIC states are eager to stand by Bangladesh in order to ensure safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya.  

At international forums, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly appealed to the international community to ensure fast and secure repatriation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Last year on June 23, 2021, PM Hasina urged the world to ensure the dignified and peaceful repatriation of Rohingya refugees at the 9th Moscow Conference on International Security. Also, according to Foreign Minister Momen, if repatriations remain uncertain or get delayed, it would worsen the situation and create further instability. 

Needless to say, the relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar are already in shambles. If the issue of narcotics is not taken seriously, Bangladesh will have to pay a high price. 

Ayanangsha Maitra is an Indian freelance journalist. 

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