11 active armed groups in Rohingya camps

This photo taken on 18 July, 2018 shows police patrolling in a Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf.AFP

There are 11 active armed groups, including the Arakan Salvation Army (ARSA), in the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar. Clashes among these groups over establishing supremacy in drug, extortion and human trafficking business have become very frequent. Serious offences like killing are taking place in the camps as well. The presence of ARSA and their suspicious activities are creating security risks.

This information came up in a report published by the Ministry of Defence. The report was presented in a parliamentary standing committee meeting on 15 February.

At present, the number of registered Rohingyas in the 33 camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar is 1.25 million. Of them, some 800,000 Rohingyas came to the country in the few months after 25 August 2017. They were forced to flee from their country at the face of suppression from the Myanmar military. Some 2,300 members of the Armed Police Battalion have been deployed in these camps to maintain law and order.

The defence ministry report says that of these armed groups, the ARSA is active in the camps in Ukhiya, Balukhali, Palongkhali and Whykong. The Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) is active in the Ukhiya and Palongkhali camps along with the ‘Master Munna Gang’. Armed group Islami Mahaj is active in the Whycong camp. There are six active armed groups in Noyapara Rohingya camp, including the Chakma robber gang, Nabi Hossain robber gang, Putia robber gang, Zakir robber gang, Salman Shah robber gang and Khaleque robber gang. Apart from that, another group named Jabu robber gang is active in the Whykong camp.

The report further says that ARSA has established control over the criminal activities in most of the Rohingya camps. Besides, the Nabi Hossain robber gang has control in some of the Rohingya camps as well. These two groups often lock into clashes over establishing supremacy in the camps.

Therefore, it is high time the law enforcement agencies take at least the clashes between the ARSA and Nabi Hossain robber gangs into cognisance and increase detective vigilance. Apart from this, speedy prosecution of those involved in various criminal activities is also recommended in the report.

The refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC) office under the Ministry of Disaster Management looks after everything in the Rohingya camps. Head of this office, RRRC Mohammad Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo that there is no way to deny that several armed groups are active in the camps. Even last Friday, a man was abducted. Later, his body was found on Saturday.

The Ministry of Defence report provides a comparative picture of crimes committed in Rohingya camps in 2021 and 2022. According to that, in 2022, the number of killings in the camps have increased. Some 22 people were killed in the Rohingya camps in 2021. The number rose to 42 in 2022. Besides, some 173 incidents of abduction were reported in 2021, which decreased to 86 in 2022.

Lastly, on Wednesday night, a clash broke out between the ARSA and the RSO. They exchanged fire for several hours. Rohingya leader Salim Ullah was killed in this incident.

According to the police and the Rohingya leaders, there have been more than 20 incidents of shooting and clashes in the last four months. Some 26 Rohingys were killed in these incidents, including 13 Rohingya leaders and seven ARSA members.

The report of the defence ministry also mentioned the Konapara camp, which sprung up along the zero line of Tumbru border. The report says the members of ARSA move freely there. Since the place is on zero line, it is not possible to carry out regular patrol and surveillance activities there. As a result, that camp has turned into a hub for conducting the organisational activities and training of ARSA, controlling the drug smuggling and carrying out terrorist activities.

RRRC Mizanur Rahman believes the main problem lies with the failure in the repatriation of the Rohingya community to their own country. The situation in the Rakhine state has not improved either and the Rohingyas are frustrated with this. This frustration sparks their reckless activities.

Mizanur Rahman further said, “That area is drug prone. They have already made connections with the local drug dealers. Together they have formed a group. It is a big challenge for the government.”