Why Is There Increasing Violence In Rohingya Camps? – OpEd


Fearing for their lives, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in 2017 from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where they were subjected to brutal atrocities. They saw the heinous acts of cruelty by the Myanmar army and the local Rakhines to their community. Their villages were burned down, villagers were mercilessly killed, and women and children were exposed to unimaginable torment.

All of the children and teens who left at the time witnessed these massacres with their own eyes, and the terror, misery, cruelty, and torture they experienced are still fresh in their minds. Those children, and youth have been living in desperation in Bangladeshi camps for the past six years. Many of them are now adults; it is time for them to earn while still living in camps with restricted employment options.  Unemployment and desperation are leading many of them astray, causing them to engage in illegal activities and violence. 

The Rohingya are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of an enabling environment for their voluntary, safe, secure, and sustainable repatriation, which has resulted in a variety of security concerns and unrest. Currently, there are 1.25 million registered Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Humanitarian aid, including food, is being supplied to them by UN organizations and foreign donors.

The majority of the 30 to 40year old members of this enormous group are unemployed, with no jobs available in the camps. Many people are responsible for running their own households. Young individuals have a tendency to smuggle Yaba for additional money, even though it is risky but can earn a lot of money. Rohingyas currently have a large number of illegal weapons in their possession for a variety of reasons. Many Rohingyas make a lot of money by freely trafficking drugs. The Rohingyas are employing illegal weaponry to maintain control of the drug trade.

Killings of Rohingyas among themselves have become a daily occurrence. As the Rohingya terrorist groups compete for dominance and control in the camps, they are engaging in a variety of crimes such as shootings, murders, extortion, and drug trafficking. In the last five years, 5,229 complaints for 14 different types of crimes have been filed in Rohingya camps, including drugs, firearms, robbery, rape, fight for dominance, kidnapping, attempted murder, extortion, human trafficking, and gold smuggling. 

Some Rohingya do not want to return to Myanmar. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) and Rohingya Salvation Organization (RSO) members are instilling fear among Rohingyas and locals. These groups are against repatriation. Their leaders have grown accustomed to a life of luxury inside the camps. Myanmar has made it possible for them to smuggle yaba, drugs, firearms, and other illegal commodities without restriction. This is why they are in conflict with the groups and individual pursuing the repatriation process. Rohingya leaders are being targeted and killed whenever there is an opportunity to prevent them from organizing and advocating for their rights.

Many argue that, opponents of repatriation are working with the Myanmar government to keep the Rohingyas in Bangladesh rather than returning to Myanmar. The presence of such armed groups within Bangladesh is obviously alarming. If the situation in Rakhine improves and an environment conducive to repatriation is formed, they would actively create various types of tension in the Rohingya camps in order to prevent the repatriation process. A group is actively working to create a negative image of the Rohingyas in the world community by engaging a part of the Rohingyas in anti-social and illegal acts. 

According to various newspapers, representatives of the Myanmar Army have contact with these terrorist groups. Myanmar is supplying these groups with Yabas worth millions of dollars in order to destabilize the situation in the camps. There are 32 terrorist groups and factions functioning in the camps. Myanmar tries to convince foreign organizations that Rohingyas are dangerous and cause havoc by orchestrating conflicts and murders inside Rohingya camps. The Myanmar government has become desperate to prove the Rohingyas as terrorists. Many believe that Myanmar wants to stop Rohingya repatriation by projecting Rohingyas as terrorists in the world, influencing the on-going Rohingya genocide proceedings in the international court in different sectors.

Among the Rohingyas, there is a lack of leaders to unite ordinary Rohingyas in favor of repatriation. Potential Rohingya leaders are being targeted for assassination in order to prevent the formation of new leadership. Some entrenched interests are attempting to split the Rohingya leadership in various ways. They don’t want the Rohingyas to organize because it will increase demand for repatriation, and the Rohingyas will want to return to Myanmar. The majority of the Rohingyas killed in the camps are leaders of various blocks, and Arsa has been held responsible for the killings. Terrorist groups often target and execute Rohingya leaders and volunteers who engage with the administration and promote repatriation. 

Terrorists target Rohingyas who help with law enforcement organizations by handing over persons involved in different crimes such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, or witnessing a case. These criminals torment them in numerous ways. They are being killed in spite of preventing terrorist activities in the camps, arranging night guards in the camps with volunteer Rohingya youths to stop extortion in the camp shops, working for Rohingya repatriation and providing information about the location and activities of terrorists to the law enforcement forces. 

Several groups are actively involved in kidnapping, rape, extortion, drug and gold smuggling, and terrorist acts, such as preventing Rohingya repatriation. Almost every day, there are incidences of firing and conflicts between terrorist factions in the camps. Kidnapping, rape, and extortion continue unabated. Terrorists perform firearms drills to control drug smuggling and spread dominance. As a result, ordinary Rohingyas are terrified. As the young people of this vast population living in the camps do not have the option to perform legal jobs, many organize gangs and become involved in crime and illegal trade across the border. Others are intrigued by his business since they earn a lot of money by taking risks and smuggling drugs. Many Rohingyas make money from such activities and then illegally travel abroad. Because the routes between Bangladesh and Rakhine  are well-known by these people, unscrupulous local traders make use of them to smuggle goods.

Smugglers in Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf, and Ukhia make money by exploiting Rohingyas as human shields in a variety of activities such as drugs, yaba, and human trafficking. The Rohingya youth are engaging in these activities due to their craving for money. The criminality among the Rohingyas is increasing day by day. Terrorist groups openly compete for control of the camps. Myanmar’s armed factions Arsa, RSO, and Nabi Hussain are currently quite active. Their major goal is to control the camp-based drug trade, extortion, kidnapping, and smuggling. The shootings occurred in the Rohingya camp as a result of a disagreement between Arsa and RSO.

Murders are on the rise as a result of three terrorist groups operating in the camp. In last five and a half years, 173 people have been murdered in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. A group of Rohingyas are killing among themselves for a variety of reasons, Some of the main reasons are conflict over influence and prestige, financial transactions, incitement by intelligence agencies of neighbouring countries, mental instability, extortion, kidnapping, conflict over leadership, unemployment, drug trade, conflict over human trafficking and illegal arms trade, target killing over militant groups’ authority, and so on. 

Shootings, murders, and kidnappings are common in the Rohingya camps between armed groups vying for control of the Yaba and Ice trades and the distribution of drug money. The primary purpose of these competitions is to spread dominance. In around 800 arenas within Rohingya camps, over 5,000 Rohingyas are involved in the drug trade. Several groups are involved in drug smuggling. Myanmar keeps terrorist groups operational by supplying them with arms and drugs across the border. From there, Rohingyas bring a large consignment of yaba and ice to the camps. According to information received, about 96 percent of Yaba come to Bangladesh through Teknaf, with drug shipments coming to Rohingya camps, making the camps one of the major transit point for drug trafficking. More than hundreds of millions of taka are traded in the camp every day. Many Rohingya have been killed in internal conflicts, clashes, shootings and ‘gun fights’ with law enforcement agencies over control of drug smuggling, dominance and distribution of extortion money. 2,309 cases against 17 types of crimes have been filed in the camps and 5,229 Rohingyas have been accused.

Apart from other crimes, Rohingyas are now involved in major crimes like contract killings. Camps become sanctuaries of crime after dusk and shootings and murders are taking place over these trivial incidents. More than 70,000 Rohingyas are living per square kilometre in the camp area. Due to the concentration of Rohingyas in the camps, it is very difficult to resolve this problem.

A new crisis has arisen as donor agencies reduce monitory and food allocations to the Rohingyas. From March 2023, the per capita ration of Rohingyas was reduced from $12 to $10. In June it was further reduced to eight dollars per person per month. This has led to increasing crime trends, anxiety and frustration among the Rohingyas. Socio-economic instability is increasing day by day in the camp due to reduction in allocation. Rohingyas are involved in various types of crimes to earn money for supporting their family and other needs. Dom Scalpelli, WFP’s country director in Bangladesh, called the cuts a “major disaster.” The Rohingyas are completely dependent on humanitarian aid to meet food and other urgent needs. As food aid declines, families will be forced to take dangerous paths to adapt to changing circumstances. According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, reducing the food assistance of Rohingyas by WFP will increase crime. 

The Rohingyas have been forced to flee their country due to violence and brutality and are forced to live in confined camps, with no guarantee of return to their homeland. Desperation, uncertain future, hopeless present are making Rohingya camps unstable and unsafe by pushing them towards murder, violence, drug trafficking and terrorist activities.

Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin

Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, NDC, AFWC, PSC, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs.

2 thoughts on “Why Is There Increasing Violence In Rohingya Camps? – OpEd

  • July 22, 2023 at 8:17 am

    The Security Personnels should all come together and cooperate each other to address this issue. The mental health issue of this people should also be taken into consideration. If they are given proper facilities then I believe they can tackle this issue.

  • July 22, 2023 at 6:08 pm

    The solution to this problem is repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Their aid is declining and that is alarming. International community must come forward to support the Rohingyas. This problem should simultaneously addressed in Myanmar and Bangladesh by all stakeholders.


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