Instability and mayhem in Rohingya camps - Implications for repatriation and regional security

Over the past five years, Myanmar's failure to create an enabling environment for voluntary, safe and


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Instability and mayhem in Rohingya camps - Implications for repatriation and regional security


Over the past five years, Myanmar's failure to create an enabling environment for voluntary, safe and sustainable returns contributed to the deepening of frustration among the Rohingyas.

This leads to numerous security concerns and instability among the young generation staying inside the camps. Massive anti-junta protests and bloodshed following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 have pushed Myanmar into conflict and created uncertainty for Rohingya repatriation.

The Rohingya crisis is gradually becoming a threat to the security of the region, including Bangladesh. Prime Minister expressed that this problem is no longer limited to Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. It has now become a concern for regional security. Besides, the environment, health and safety of the surrounding area are also facing risks. About 1.2 million Rohingyas are currently staying in 34 refugee camps in Ukhia-Teknaf area of Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. They are getting the humanitarian support including food, provided by international organizations and donors.

The average age of this largest group is in between thirty to forty. There is a tendency among these youth to smuggle yaba from Myanmar because by that they can earn a handsome amount of money. As they are staying in the camps for long time without any hope so they are depressed and to get rid of that they give priority to earning money. Inside the camps they find that some are leading better life by involving themselves in drug smuggling that allures them to take risk and join in such heinous activities. Many young people staying inside the camps make money from the smuggling and spend those to migrate to different countries illegally. As the youth of this large population living in the camps do not have the opportunity to do any legal work, they are divided into different gangs and get involved in crime and enter the illegal trade through the border. As they have good knowledge of the routes between Bangladesh and Arakan, they are used by unscrupulous traders for smuggling.

Security risks in Rohingya camps are increasing due to delays in repatriation. In the last five years, two thousand four hundred thirty-eight different types of cases have been filed in Rohingya camps by law enforcement agencies in various crimes including weapons, drugs, rape, kidnapping, robbery, assault on police, murder and human trafficking.

Rohingya leaders and volunteers were the targets of these killings within the camps. According to the information of Cox's Bazar District Police, 125 murders have taken place in 32 Rohingya camps from August 2017 to October 2022.

In 2021, one of the top Rohingya leaders, Mr. Mohibullah was systematically murdered. He had strongly advocated for the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. Rohingya leaders working for repatriation in the camps are prime targets for terrorists and they are systematically killing them whenever they get the chance. Rohingya Volunteers who work with the administration are also targeted for murder by Rohingya terrorists. Ordinary Rohingyas living in camps are in a panic because of these miscreants.

Terrorists target those Rohingyas if they cooperate with law enforcement agencies against those involved in various crimes including drug trafficking, abduction and murder in the camp as well as those who become witnesses to this type of case. They are subjected to various kinds of harassment by the miscreants and sometimes they are killed. As the camps are surrounded by hilly areas and jungles, the killers can hide easily.

A section of Rohingyas are getting involved in killing among themselves due to 25 reasons including dominance in Rohingya camps, clan conflicts and control of criminal gangs. Other major reasons include, conflicts over influence and prestige, financial transactions, instigation of intelligence agencies of neighbouring countries, mental instability, extortion, kidnapping, leadership conflicts, lack of competent leadership, unemployment, drug trade, human trafficking and illegal arms trade, Target killing, litigating cases as plaintiffs, testifying in cases and assisting law enforcement agencies etc. with the authority of militant organizations.

Due to these reasons, at least one hundred twenty five Rohingyas have been killed at different times. Shootings, murders and kidnappings often occur between armed groups in the camps over control of the yaba and Ice trade and the sharing of drug money. Local authorities believe that the situation may worsen in the future. Currently there are more than fourteen terrorist groups in the camps. Among those, some groups are active in drug smuggling. Organized groups staying another side of the border are keeping these terrorist groups active by supplying arms, and drugs from the border.

At least five thousand Rohingyas are involved in the drug trade in about eight hundred different places in the camps. With the connivance of some members of the Myanmar army, the Rohingyas brought large consignments of yaba and Ice to the camps from there.

Large consignments of yaba and ice enter the camp through thirty three smuggling routes along the border. According to law enforcement agencies, drugs worth about Taka 1000 million are smuggled into the country annually and 70 percent of it is yaba, now yaba is being replaced by a drug called ice. Recently, law enforcement agencies have confiscated drugs worth about one hundred fifty million taka. According to the United Nations Drug Control Agency, only ten percent of all drugs sold are confiscated by the authority.

There are more than twenty nine yaba factories in Myanmar. Most of the yaba produced in these factories is smuggled to Bangladesh. In the last five years, the number of drug dealers in Rohingya camps has increased to five thousand. Yaba trafficking, drug-related violence, gunfights and the availability of illegal weapons have increased in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, seven million yabas are sold every day, with a monetary value of twenty one million taka.

These drugs come from the Shan Province of Myanmar and from there transported to Yangon, these consignments arrive at Cox's Bazar and other parts of Bangladesh via Sittway and Mangadu. Internal conflicts in Rohingya camps often lead to shootings and murders. If the repatriation of the Rohingyas is protracted then the lives of the locals will be threatened. Many drug and smugglers in Cox's Bazar, Teknaf, and Ukhia are making a huge amount of money by using Rohingyas as shields in various crimes including drug, yaba and human trafficking.

Local habitants are under constant security threat due to these miscreant Rohingyas, they are living in a dire situation with their children as there is always the lure of illegal work in front of them and they can go astray at any time. The criminality among Rohingyas is increasing day by day. According to many, these terrorist groups are also patronized by Myanmar. They are also being assisted in carrying out their terrorist activities from Myanmar. To solve these problems effectively the repatriation process needs to be started as soon as possible.

Alternatively, the Rohingyas should be temporarily shifted to Bhasan Char Island or some other place. Surveillance activities on them should be increased. Because of the Rohingyas, the country's biggest tourist center, Cox's Bazar and surrounding areas are under security threat. If the Rohingyas stay in the same place for a long time, the entire hilly area including Cox's Bazar will be threatened and this area will become a hub of crime.

There are reports in various newspapers that representatives of the Myanmar authority are in contact with most of the terrorist groups based in the Rohingya camps. Myanmar is supporting these groups financially to destabilize the situation in the camps. Through these conflicts and murders in Rohingya camps, Myanmar wants to convince international organizations that the Rohingyas are violent and cause chaos. However, according to many, the camps have become conflictual due to their indirect patronage.

Thirty-two terrorist groups and sub-groups are active in the camps and are believed by many to be sponsored by Myanmar. The Myanmar government has become desperate to prove Rohingyas as terrorists through these extremist groups. Myanmar does not want the Rohingyas to be organized, as this would create pressure for repatriation and the Rohingyas would want to go back. Myanmar wants to project Rohingyas as terrorists to the world community. By that, they want to upset the ongoing Rohingya Genocide trial process in international court and impede Rohingya repatriation.

Crime and human trafficking in Myanmar and across Southeast Asia is becoming a regional and global security threat. Human trafficking of Rohingyas from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia has become a serious problem. Illegal trafficking of methamphetamine or yaba from Myanmar to other neighbouring countries has increased alarmingly. If stability does not return to Myanmar, organized crime will spread to other parts of the country and increasingly pose a global security threat.

The Bangladesh government is dealing with the Rohingya issue very judiciously and has so far kept the situation in the camps under control. If this crisis is prolonged, it will gradually put pressure on the regional security which is not at all desirable. Current developments regarding the Rohingya issue, its causes and updated information should be circulated and presented regularly in the international arena and to all stakeholders. Efforts should continue to maintain regional security and stability with the support and cooperation of the international community and regional countries to ensure the return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar by strengthening public opinion for speedy repatriation.

Sent in from: Hasan Md Shamsuddin, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Author's Bio: Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs.


Copyright: Fresh Angle International (www.freshangleng.com)
ISSN 2354 - 4104


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