Fear and loathing in refugee camps
It was not that fear gripped the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar only after the recent murder of a popular leader; it has always been there because of rampant crime, rivalry between groups and lax security.
But the assassination last week of Mohib Ullah, president of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, worsened the situation, further exposing security vulnerabilities and latent tensions between criminal groups active in 34 camps. refugees in Ukhia and Teknaf.
During a recent visit to the camps, this correspondent spoke with nearly 100 Rohingyas following the assassination of Mohib. Most of them believe that security in the camps has gone from bad to worse in recent times, as armed gangs belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have established a kingdom of fear.
“We fled our country and came here to save our lives. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much for us. We live in constant fear,” said Zakir Hossain, a resident of Camp-7 in Ukhia.
Recounting the situation in the strangely quiet camp, Zakir, who runs a grocery store, said, âI close my shop and go home before sunset. After dusk, the camp takes on a grim look as criminal gangs roam the settlements.
“When we should have been united for a common cause, we are divided. We cannot trust each other,” said Zakir, who claimed to have left around 100 acres of land in Myanmar in 2017.
Such is the distrust among commoners that Zakir rarely speaks to his next door neighbor who came from a place about 35 km from his home in Myanmar.
A majority of the refugees said most of the armed gangs in the camps belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which viewed Mohib as an opponent.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday that at least a dozen activists have sought protection from the UN refugee agency after Mohib’s murder amid renewed threats from armed groups, including ARSA.
According to officials from different law enforcement agencies, at least 10 Rohingya groups are involved in at least 12 types of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking and theft.
Some of the gangs are known as “Salman Shah Group”, “Putia Group”, “Munna Group”, “Hakim Group” and “Jokir Group,” the refugees said.
Since August 2017, at least 226 Rohingya have been killed and some 1,298 cases have been filed accusing 2,850 people, mainly in connection with the possession of drugs and firearms.
Three armed police battalions (APBn) maintain public order in the refugee camps where more than one million Rohingya have lived since the massive influx of 2017.
When contacted, APBn-14 Commander Naimul Huq said: âThe camps are so crowded that every time we launch a raid, they [the criminals] you just have to go from one camp to the other and disappear into the crowd. “
The camps are fenced with barbed wire, but many holes large enough for people to fit through the fence can be seen.
âThe Rohingya have made at least 12 holes on the fence. Every time we fix one, they make another. The government is making a catwalk along the fence. Once that is done, the patrol boats will stop. enter, âhe said.
The APBn CO added that most crimes occur at night after 8 p.m. and that the poor lighting in the camps makes the task of law enforcement even more difficult.
Naimul said two more armed police battalions, one in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, will soon be deployed.
A DAY AT THE CAMP
The Rohingya settlement at Cox’s Bazar is a facility with around 50 watchtowers. Everyone entering the camp must undergo an elaborate security check.
This correspondent had to obtain the authorization of the additional commissioner for relief and repatriation of refugees and the commander of the APBn-14 before entering the Noukar Math camp on October 2.
Three young people chatting in front of a grocery store said that everything was fine in the camp. After a long conversation, when this correspondent offered to treat them at a nearby tea stand, they refused.
“If I’m going to have tea with you, I’ll be identified as a traitor and a law enforcement rat.”
The criminals are everywhere in the camp and they monitor the movements of the Rohingyas. If you are on their list, you have problems, âhe said.
“Everything seems calm during the day. After the sun goes down, the situation becomes completely different,” he said, adding that no one had the courage to denounce the criminals.
Mohammed Faisal, a resident of Lambashia camp, said: âThe Rohingyas should have been united. But we fight each other and we weaken.
About 750,000 Rohingyas fled military repression in Myanmar in the weeks following August 25, 2017, and joined around 300,000 other Rohingyas who fled previous waves of violence and took refuge in Cox’s Bazar.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said on Tuesday that Bangladeshi forces would fire to stop the smuggling of weapons, drugs and people on the border with Myanmar.
“I had a discussion with the Minister of the Interior yesterday [Monday] on the current situation at the border and [we] decided we would open fire in the future. Only then will the crimesâ¦ stop, âhe said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Monday that many Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar were involved in drug trafficking.