The Irrawaddy

Bangladesh Tightens Security in Rohingya Camps

Rohingya refugees are registered by Bangladeshi army personnel at a registration center in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 27, 2017.

Police in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar have imposed tight security in Rohingya refugee camps following an increase in crime, including the killing of a refugee leader.

With no clear timetable in sight for the physical repatriation of the Rohingya, police are building five permanent camps to cater to the refugees, who are considered by Muslim-majority Bangladesh to be displaced Myanmar nationals.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, an estimated 688,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape a reported military offensive.

According to Cox’s Bazar police headquarters, at least 106 cases were filed against 186 Rohingya people between Aug. 25 and Jan. 25. About half of those were murder and firearms cases, and half were drug related.

This week, Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested three Rohingya — Nur Muhamed, Ataur Rahim, and Mohibullah — in Cox’s Bazar in connection with the Jan. 20 shooting death of Rohingya community leader Muhammed Yusuf, 35, in the Thaingkhola camp in refugee-populated Ukhiya sub-district.

RAB Cox’s Bazar chief Major Ruhul Amin said, “The motive for the killing is not entirely clear but during interrogation [the suspects] said they committed the crime as they were unwilling to return to Myanmar without recognition as ‘Rohingya.’”

The victim, Muhammed Yusuf, had assisted local authorities in compiling the list of refugees and was motivating others to do the same, the official added. “We currently have five makeshift camps and have taken steps to upgrade them into permanent structures.  Five watchtowers will also be built to further enhance security,” said Cox’s Bazar deputy police chief Afruzul Haque Tutul.

In a 10-day period from Jan. 14, at least four Rohingya people were killed inside the camps set up by the government for the refugees.

A police officer who has been dealing with Rohingya for a long time told The Irrawaddy that the leaderless community is now split over three possible courses of action. “One group wants to return to their homeland [Myanmar] with due dignity; another group wants to stay in Bangladesh as they are afraid to return; and the third group wants to be to repatriated [to third countries].” The official added that “these disagreements are causing tension.”

Thyangkhali Rohingya camp chairman Muhamed Ali, who is responsible for nearly 70,000 refugees, admitted that a section of the refugee population was trying to create trouble over how the repatriation process should proceed.

“The situation has improved… We will discuss [the repatriation process] with them,” said Bangladesh refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Muhammad Abul Kalam.

However, Arakan Rohingya Human Rights and Peace Society organizer Mohib Ullah said, “We want protection by the UN security force. The protection is needed not only during the repatriation process, but until we are completely resettled.”

Rights defender Nur Khan Liton, who has been working in the Rohingya camps since Aug. 30, 2017, shared the view that the community lacks leadership and that tension persists over the repatriation process.

Under the verification process laid out by Myanmar, each Rohingya national must voluntarily declare their intent to be repatriated. The UNHCR also maintains that any repatriation must be based on each individual refugee’s informed and voluntary decision.

“We want equal rights [in Myanmar] and we believe the Bangladesh government will understand our position,” said Mohib, a refugee who was briefly detained, quizzed and released by law enforcement officials after helping to mobilize a campaign in Kutupalang camp advocating for safe repatriation.

Kalam, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said the UN body would be engaged in the repatriation process “on time.”

Last week, however, he said that there was no set timeframe for the repatriation as it was “an open-ended process.”

Joint Effort on Data Collection

Bangladesh authorities signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations refugee agency on Jan. 26 agreeing to compile family-based bio-data collected from Rohingya refugees registered by the country’s Home Affairs Ministry. The move is aimed at facilitating the repatriation process agreed between Dhaka and Naypyitaw on Nov. 23.

Multiple Bangladesh officials confirmed the signing of the MoU. Authorities are currently struggling to meet Myanmar’s requirements for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

The UNHCR has been working to link data from a family counting operation with individual refugee bio-data collected by Bangladesh’s Home Affairs Ministry to create a stronger database to improve the delivery of assistance to refugees.

The ministry has registered over 1 million displaced Rohingya from Myanmar since it started collecting individuals’ data in mid-September. However, Myanmar has provided a new verification form that requires family details instead of the individual data collected by Bangladesh.

In addition, the Bangladesh government is drafting another MoU with the UNHCR that will involve the UN body in the entire repatriation process.

Muktadir Rashidis a Dhaka-based journalist contributing to The Irrawaddy.