Daily wagers suffer as fighting on Myanmar side of border continues

BGB members patrol on the Bangladesh-Myanmar Friendship Highway in the Ghundhum border of Naikhongchhari in Bandarban on 13 February 2024.Jewel Shil

Sounds of gunshots were heard from the Myanmar side of Teknaf and the Ukhiya border after 10:00 am on Tuesday, with firing sometimes lasting for an hour. Smoke was also seen billowing in some places during the interval of firings.

As fighting intensified in Myanmar, panic gripped the bordering villages in Bangladesh. Daily wagers from 30 villages in the Teknaf and the Ukhiya border area are worried about their earnings since there have been no jobs over the past 10 days.

People are spending their small savings, but cannot manage it. Many even have loan instalments. Local public representatives said there are at least 100,000 people currently living in these bordering areas and they are mostly fishermen, daily wagers and tea vendors.

People living in border areas fear that infiltration of Rohingya may rise as fighting intensifies across the border. However, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members were seen patrolling the border. Though fighting rages along the Teknaf and the Ukhiya borders, the situation remains calm in the Ghumdhum border of Naikhongchhari as no sound of firing has been heard over the past two days.

Meanwhile, a body has been floating in the canal adjacent to Naf river in the zero line of the Ghumdhum border over the past few days, locals and police said.

Ghumdhum police outpost in-charge Mahfuz Imtiaz Bhiyuan told Prothom Alo on Tuesday night locals informed the police about the floating body, but it could not be retrieved due to security concerns.

Earlier, a body was recovered from Ukhiya’s Rahmater Beel border on 9 February and two more bodies below the Balukhali Telipara bridge on 11 February.

A fighting has broken out between Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) and insurgent group Arakan Army on the other side of Naikhongchhari, Teknaf and Ukhiya borders since 2 February.

Sounds of intermittent firing

Intermittent firing took place in the Dhekibunia and the Chakmakata areas on the other side of the Rahmater Beel border of Palongkhali union in Ukhiya of Cox’s Bazar from 7:30 am to 9:30 am on Tuesday.

Though firing intensified later, no heavy shelling was heard from there. On the other hand, non-stop firing was also heard from the Kumarkhali area of the Uttarpara border of Teknaf’s Whykong union.

Prothom Alo correspondent stayed in Uttarpara and Unchiprang border areas in Teknaf’s Whykong union from 11:00 am and 3:00 am. BGB was seen taking the position after the nonstop firing began. Speed boats are kept standby in the river for patrolling to prevent the infiltration of Rohingya. BGB strengthened surveillance at border outposts and also urged people to maintain a safe distance from the border.

Fishermen pass idle time near the Whykong border of Bandarban as a fishing ban is in place in Naf river following the fighting along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Jewel Shil

Whykong union parishad chairman Nur Ahmed Anwari told Prothom Alo that intermittent firing has been heard in the border area since the morning. Bullets fell on people’s houses and shops several days ago. No bullet landed on Tuesday but people are terrified that anything might happen anytime, he added.

Locals and public representatives said the sound of gunshots lessened in Naikhongchhari’s Tumbru and Ghumdhum borders, but people’s daily life is yet to return to normalcy.

Enamul Haque from the Ghumdhum area told Prothom Alo on Tuesday firing stopped for now but people remain panicked.

Daily wagers suffer the worst

Uttarpara is a half kilometre away from Whykong Bazar of Teknaf upazila on the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf highway.  There are shrimp enclosures, and salt and paddy fields. Most of the people from these areas are daily wagers. They live by fishing, selling fish or earning daily wages. Prothom Alo correspondent spoke to at least 15 people in Uttarpara on Tuesday afternoon and each of them has a family of five or six.

Mohammad Shajajan, 35, a fisherman from the locality said, “How long will this continue? I have borrowed from others as I spent my savings. What would we eat if we cannot catch fish?”

Fisherman Nur Hossain, 30, was tending to his fishing nets and boat in a canal adjacent to a shrimp enclosure in Uttarpara. There were also 8-10 boats. Nur Hossain implored, “Brother, please do something for us.”

Nurnahar Begum, 45, is a homemaker and her husband Md Siraj is a fisherman. She told Prothom Alo they borrowed Tk 60,000 from an organisation and paid an instalment of Tk 1,800 a week. They cannot pay the instalment now after her husband’s income stopped. Yet, they face pressure for payment of instalments.

Fisherman Nurul Alam, 45, also demanded they must be given additional time to pay instalments as there is no work in the area following the fighting on the other side of the border.

Regarding the pressure for payment of instalments, Razib Ghosh, account officer at non-government organisation Pratyasha, said, “We were not aware of the pressure on instalment payment. Nobody informed us either and the higher authorities would be informed now.”

Local union parishad member Sirajul Mostafa said about 4,000 people live in Uttrapara. He told Prothom Alo they sought help for the affected people from the government through the UP chairman.

The scenario is similar in the border areas of Anjumpara, Rahmater Beel, Dhamonkhali and Kharangkhali of Ukhiya’s Palongkhali union. People from these areas live by fishing and working fields.

Nurul Islam, 56, from Dhamonkhali, said, “I planted paddy saplings on several pieces of land, but I cannot spray fertiliser on it. I am also facing difficulty in running my family since income stopped.”

Rashid Ahmed, 28, from Kharangkhali, ran a tea stall, but he could not open the shop during the fighting. He opens it sometimes but no customer comes, and he is facing difficulties in running his family.

Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Muhammad Shahin Imran said daily wagers who cannot get a job in the border area will receive assistance. He told Prothom Alo on Tuesday night they were taking measures on this.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna