Hunted and homeless, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are fast falling into a drug net. Several families like that of 30-year-old Rashid Alam were enlisted by the international drug mafia as they fled from Myanmar into the neighbouring nation.
The devil’s deal is enticing: Carrying drugs can herd their families to safety. Alam sneaked into Bangladesh in September 2017, and was living at a refugee camp at Teknaf in Cox Bazar area. In December, he was caught with 3,5000 yaba tablets. His told the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) that he fell into the hands of touts who promised to bring his family and relatives safely out of Myanmar and provide them with a job in Bangladesh. Alam is native of Dongkhali. He still harbours hope of meeting his family.
Many women, men and teenagers have become drug mules for the international drug mafia.
To lure them is easy: They are poor. They are traumatized. They live in despicable conditions in refugees camps spread across Cox Bazar. Currently, more than 11.5 lakh Rohingyas live in Bangladesh, close to the Myanmar border.
Every day, a new hut is built for them, and every day a fresh herd of refugees washes in from Myanmar. The huts are spread over kilometers in the two major camps at Kutupalong and Balukhali.
They can accommodate only one person, but are inhabited by four to five people, taking turns to sleep.
NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provide food which is barely adequate for the swelling numbers.
The touts bait them with the lure of returning to their motherland, or securing employment in India or South Africa in multinational companies. All they have to do is carry the ‘madness drug’ over the border to India or distribute it within Bangladesh.
“The smuggling of yaba tablets has increased manifold since last year,” said Colonel Gazi Md Ahsanuzzaman, acting regional commander of south east region of BGB told DNA. Bangladesh shares a 271 km border with Myanmar, including 45 km of river; and 4,427 km with India, including 234 km of river border.
“Yaba pills worth Rs 1.25 core are smuggled per day in Bangladesh; earlier it was limited to few lakhs,” said Ahsanuzzaman. The tablets are smuggled from the no-man’s land near Gumdhum village in Bangladesh, where the border is plain and porous, and from there to Teknaf.
Last month, BGB seized yaba tablets worth Rs 52 crore from a Rohingya woman. “They carry it in their shoes. Now everybody is suspicious of the Rohingya. The basic instinct of a person is to work. we cannot keep them idle,” said Brigadier General SM Rakibullah, regional director of BGB (Cox Bazar).
He stressed that there is need for a permanent solution of this humanitarian crisis. “They cannot contained for long. There will be a spill-over, and more numbers will be recruited by the drug mafia,” Rakibullah said.