Rohingya Camps Near the Border — a New Source of Insecurity?

The bordering area at the strategically southern part of Bangladesh is the shelter for over 1.2 million forcibly displaced Rohingya refugees. After the increasing trend of criminal activities notably the kidnapping of four schoolboys from Ramu Upazilla of Cox’s Bazar,  killing of the prominent Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah and 7 other people within a month at the Rohingya refugee camp on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, the first question came to mind — how far the Rohingya camps are safe from the internal and external security threats especially close to the border? What are the steps that urgently need to be taken?

The impassable and hilly area of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border along with the 34 Rohingya camps is vulnerable and prone to individual and collective security threats. This area has been used as a hub of criminal activities. For instance, 80 percent of Yaba pills are now entering Bangladesh through Naikhyangchhari and around 70 percent of the consignments are temporarily stored in the bordering Rohingya camps before transporting to various districts. Besides drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms fighting, extremism, and terrorism are the budding security threats for concern. Being the bordering area, the camps have the potential to use as a base for cross-border fighting and terrorist activities.

Recently, crime rates are at their peak in the Rohingya refugee camps of Bangladesh. At least 14 criminal groups are currently active in the camps where the delinquents are lurking amidst the refugees, using walkie-talkies and Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) sim cards to avoid official tracing. Since August 2017, at least 234 people were killed in the Rohingya camps and nearly 1,301 cases were registered against 2,945 Rohingyas. Sandwiched between the military crackdown in Myanmar and the offenders at the Cox’s Bazar camps, the common Rohingyas are facing murder, raping, smuggling and other criminal activities. For their life security, some Rohingyas are indulged in criminal groups. Besides, the density of the Rohingya population in the camps is also a matter of concern. As of September 2021, roughly 0.9 million Rohingyas are living in the 13 square kilometers long Kutupalong Transit Camp which is more than 70,000 per square kilometers. Though three battalions of Armed Police Battalion (APBn) have been deployed to maintain the security of the camps, it has become a tough task for them to maintain the law and order due to the dense population in the clumsy camps and bordering area.

Another major concern is that the camps are not very far from the tourist destinations especially from the longest sea beach — Cox’s Bazar. The distance between Inani sea beach (One of the attractive beach points) and Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camps is only 7.57 miles and the distance between the Kutupalong camps and the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is only 1.86 miles away. Any kind of mischiefs in the tourist attractions site and hideout in the congested camps or even in the impregnable hilly areas of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border makes the camp more dreadful. In the recent past, the concerns have been increasing alarmingly. Specially, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is being alleged for the recent killings in the camps of Mohib Ullah and 7 others. The issue of controlling over the camps is the main reason of the deteriorating situation of the “camp-border nexus”.

Considering the deteriorating situation in the bordering Rohingya camps, the following measures can be pondered. First, the surveillance in the camps needs to be increased through fencing and watchtower. Identifying the risky areas of the camp and the border, security arrangements need to be chalked out. Second, the motive of the recent incidents seems to maintain influence in the camps. To reduce this kind of incident, the leadership role of the Majhis (Rohingya community leader) needs to be increased. Third, Bangladesh has initiated a project to relocate some 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char; among them about 19,000 Rohingyas have already been shifted there. The relocation to other 81,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char needs to be accelerated. Another technical assessment needs to be conducted under the nine months’ experience of relocation since December 2020 to find out the feasibility of relocating more Rohingyas until the repatriation resumes. Finally, within the ongoing political situation in Myanmar, the possibility to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in the foreseeable future is very low. In this regard, the international community needs to think about creating UN-mandated “safe heavens” for the Rohingyas until the favorable condition for full-fledged repatriation creates. Everybody should keep in mind that insecurity in the camps and border is insecurity for the whole region of South Asia.

The bordering Rohingya camps are gradually turning into a breeding place for criminalities and regional security threats. It is high time Bangladesh as well as the international body addressed the issue and acted accordingly.

[Photo by John Owens (VOA), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Amit Thakur is currently pursuing his MA in International Relations from the  Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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