Cox’s Bazar Correspondent: Barbed wire fences were erected surrounding 33 Rohingya refugee camps in in Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar at a cost of approximately Tk 1.95 billion, but the Rohingyas are now fleeing from the camps to various districts including Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar, cutting through the barbed wire fences.
According to Rohingya leaders and law enforcement agencies, uncertainty over repatriation, permanent settlement in Bangladesh and search for extra income and work are causing the Rohingyas to flee the camps.
Currently, there are 12.5 million Rohingyas registered with 33 refugee camps, and 800,000 of them arrived in Bangladesh in the next couple of months after 25 August 2017. However, not a single Rohingya refugee has been repatriated in the past six years.
According to inofrmation provided by police, intelligence agencies and local representatives, more than 300,000 Rohingyas have fled the refugee camps in six years, and at least 150,000 of them live in the settlements in hill area of Cox’s Bazar town while the remaining 150,000 Rohingyas settled in Teknaf, Ukhiya, Eidgaon, Ramu and Chakrai upazilas of Cox’s Bazar and various upazila of three hill tracts districts – Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati. Law enforcement agencies including police have detained 68,572 Rohingyas in 16 districts including Chattogram, Manikganj, Cumilla, Jashore, Naogaon, Satkhira, Chandpur and Barisal over the past six years and sent them back to refugee camps.
Civil society members said incidents of Rohingyas fleeing the camps are a threat to the national security of the country, and if the illegally settled Rohingyas are not listed, evicted and sent back to refugee camps, the situation may turn worse.
The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mohammed Mizanur Rahman told that an initiative is being taken to identify how many Rohingyas have fled the camps. At first, counting will be done at several blocks of the refugee camps as per the list of the Rohingyas, and if any refugee is found absent, then other refugee camps will also be searched. Yet, it is a difficult task, he added.
Mizanur Rahman expressed concern over the Rohingyas fleeing the camps saying the Rohingyas are receiving all types of assistance from the government and the international agencies. Yet they are escaping from the camp avoiding law enforcement agencies’ watch and cutting through barbed wire fence in the hope of a better life. Those who get caught are being convinced, and if it does not work, legal action will be taken, he added.
Leaving refugee camps in search of work
Kutupalang Bazar is the half way through the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf road. More than 100 Rohingyas were waiting for a bus beside the road at 9:00am on 22 September. A bus arrived after a while. Ten to 15 Rohingyas boarded on it. The bus then left for Cox’s Bazar. Visiting the refugee camps at Kutupalong, Balukhali, Lombashia and Modhurchara of Ukhiya upazila in the afternoon, this correspondent saw several hundreds of Rohingyas taking preparations to leave for Teknaf or Cox’s Bazar for work.
Jalal Ahmed, the leader of the Rohingyas at Kutupalong refugee camp, said at least 3,000 Rohingyas escaped from this camp in search of jobs, and most of them live in rented houses in Cox’s Bazar town.
Police set up check posts on the road adjacent to the Ukhiya Degree College on the afternoon of 21 September. They detained 40 Rohingyas after searching several vehicles bound for Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram. A day earlier, detectives also detained 58 Rohingyas from several buses on the Link Road of Cox’s Bazar town. The joint force held 260 Rohingyas on 19 September. According to police, 472 Rohingyas have been detained by law enforcement agencies in the past six days while 920 Rohingyas were held in the past two months. A total of 68,572 Rohingyas have been detained across the country and sent back to the refugee camps over the past six years.
Ukhiya police station officer-in-charge (OC) Sheikh Muhammad Ali said 90 per cent of the detained Rohingyas were leaving the camps for Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram in search of jobs. Though there are 10 check posts of the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) at the refugee camps, Rohingyas are feeling the camps by cutting through barbed wire fences. Since the detained Rohingyas face no punishment, their escape cannot be prevented, he added.
At least 150,000 Rohingyas built settlements on various hills in Cox’s Bazar municipality alone, claimed Mahbubur Rahman, who is the president of Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Prevention Committee and general secretary of Citizens for Good Governance’s (SHUJAN) Cox’s Bazar chapter.
He said at least 1,500 of those Rohingyas became voters, and 1,200 others obtained passports from various districts and went to the Middle East. Even a Rohingya was held while making a passport in Jhalokati on 20 September. The Rohingyas control the labour market in Cox’s Bazar. If a count is carried out at refugee camps, data on how many Rohingyas are not there can be found out, he added.
Saying that thousands of Rohingyas set up settlements occupying the government hill inside the municipal area, Cox’s Bazar municipality mayor Mahbubur Rahman Chowdhury added he received allegations that Rohingyas cunningly became voters and he is looking into the matter.
Committees are being formed with the people for different professions at 12 wards of the municipality to list the Rohingyas, and initiatives will be taken to send back them to the refugee camps, he said.
200 secret points at barbed-wire fences
More than 200 secret ways have been created by cutting barbed wire fences surrounding the refugee camps. The Rohingyas leave the camps in groups at dawn and dusk through these secret ways. There is a grill gate along the barbed wire fence in the Amgachtala area of the Kutupalong refugee camps, and Rohingya men, women and children were seen leaving the camps through it.
Rohingya youth Faisal also left the camp through this gate and boarded a bus bound for Cox’s Bazar. When asked, he said his two brothers live in the Khajamanjil area of Cox’s Bazar town and he is going there in search of a job.
Another Rohingya man Mohammad Rafique said he cannot go outside the camp because of the check post, which is why they go outside by cutting the barbed wire. Five to six thousand Rohingya men go outside at dawn and dusk to look for jobs and some of them return to camps at night.
The APBn-8 is tasked with maintaining the security of the refugee camps. Its commander Md Amir Zafar said Rohingyas are trying to flee the camps as repartition delays. The refugee severed the barbed wire fence due to strict vigilance at check post. More than 200 secret points have already been marked out, and they have informed the departments offices concerned to repair the fence as soon as possible.
As the Rohingyas spread across Cox’s Bazar, the law and order in the district gets worse day by day, said Mahmuul Haque Chowdhury, who is an advisor of Ukhiya Rohingya Repatriation Action Council and former chairman of Ukhiya upazila parishad.
There are more than 15 check posts on the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf road and the Cox’s Bazar-Tenaf Marine Drive, but it is necessary to increase surveillance there, he added.
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