Bangladesh Tightens Security of Rohingya Refugee Camps Ahead of Poll

By Muktadir Rashid   21 December 2018

DHAKA — Officials in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar District say they will bar Rohingya refugees from leaving their camps for all but emergencies and medical trips and restrict the movement of foreign aid workers in and out for three days around the national elections on Dec. 30.

“The camps will apparently be sealed for those days,” Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Kamal Hossain told The Irrawaddy. “The checkpoints on the roads will be strengthened.”

Cox’s Bazar police Superintendent Masud Hossain said Bangladeshi authorities were worried that local politicians might try to hire the refugees to pose as supporters or even cast ballots.

“We will keep them in these circumstances so that no one can misuse them,” he said.

An official with the government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission said his agency was also asked to keep an especially close watch in the lead-up to the elections.

“We have held a meeting with the officials to beef up vigilance in the camps,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.

In addition to an unknown number of army and border guard personnel, about 1,100 police currently serve the camps, which shelter some 1.1 million mostly Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Most of them have arrived since August 2017, when attacks by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security posts in northern Rakhine State triggered a violent crackdown there by the Myanmar military.

According to police, at least 22 Rohingya have been killed in the camps over the past year by other refugees and that gangs in the camps are involved in everything from kidnapping to ransom, extortion, robbery, smuggling, drug trafficking and rape.

In a report released Nov. 12, the International Crisis Group says ARSA members were present in the camps and could launch cross-border raids on Myanmar’s security forces.

“Other militant factions have also been organizing in the camps, though their capacity for violent action is unclear,” the report adds.

Kamal, the deputy commissioner, said aid agencies have been asked to supply the camps with extra food ahead of the security clampdown.

Abdul Kashem, however, executive director of the non-profit Help Cox’s Bazar, said his group had not been informed of the plans to restrict movement in and out of the camps but would adjust its work as soon as it was.