A foreign organisation of Rohingyas is assisting some Myanmar nationals -- who took shelter in Bangladesh following the military crackdown in Rakhine State -- in passport forgery, according to Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) in Chattogram.
This came to light after police arrested three Rohingya youths on September 6 last year along with Bangladeshi passports. They were on their way to Dhaka to go to Turkish embassy for visa purposes, Inspector Sontosh Kumar Chakma of PBI told The Daily Star recently citing their confessional statements before court.
He said European Rohingya Council (ERC), an association of Rohingyas residing in Europe, helped finance and guide the youths through local contacts.
"Local brokers helped them get national ID cards, citizenship certificates, birth registration numbers and police verifications from relevant government offices while the organisation funded it," said Inspector Sontosh.
One of the arrestees gave a confessional statement before a Chattogram court on January 23 this year, detailing the process of forging the documents, he added.
The arrestees are Mohammed Yusuf (25), his brother Mohammed Musa (20) and cousin Mohammed Aziz (25). Police arrested them from Uttar Kattali area of the port city and filed a case with Akbar Shah Police Station.
Yusuf gave his statement before the court of Chattogram Metropolitan Magistrate Safi Uddin under section 164 of CrPC, said Inspector Sontosh, also the case's investigation officer. Yusuf gave the statement in English, he added.
The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the case document and the statement.
According to the statement, Yusuf, his parents and six siblings (five brothers, one sister) fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 and took shelter in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.
Later, he joined a volunteer organisaiton there.
Yusuf said he met a donor from Turkey, who introduced himself as RC. After learning about their plight, RC said he would help Yusuf's family.
RC gave Yusuf an e-mail address through which they kept in touch. Later, he came to know that it was an e-mail address of European Rohingya Council. They told him they would not be able to assist him without a passport.
The ERC then gave him number of one of their representatives -- a Bangladeshi -- whose name was Ershad.
Ershad told Yusuf to go to port city with his brothers and contact one Parvez. On December 17, 2018, Yusuf, his younger brother and cousin arrived at the city and met Parvez at Riazuddin Bazar.
Parvez boarded them on a Feni-bound bus the same day and gave number of another person called Saber.
In Feni, Saber received them. After spending the night at a hotel, Saber took them to the passport office the next morning. There, an official there took their photo and fingerprints without asking anything.
They went back to Cox's Bazar the same day. Around 18 days later, they got their passports, Yusuf said. Ershad handed it to them.
Meanwhile, they even got selected for scholarships, arranged by the ERC members through e-mails. In March 2019, Yusuf received another e-mail, which informed him to get ready for Turkey.
This newspaper has copies of multiple e-mails that were exchanged between Yusuf and the ERC last year.
In some e-mails "The ERC Education Team" informed Yusuf that that they had submitted his application for scholarships while some mentioned the application was being processed and others said he should keep the information secret and not change or share his password and e-mail.
Yusuf said in May, someone also took their interview via a video chat app. They gave the interview from a local computer shop in Ukhiya. In September, they were directed to go to Dhaka for visa purposes.
Yusuf in the statement also mentioned that throughout the entire process they did not have to spend anything as all the expenses were covered by the ERC. He said around Tk 1.20 lakh were spent on each passport.
He also claimed that he did not know they were doing anything illegal.
Meanwhile, broker Parvez was arrested by the PBI during their investigation, which helped the officials connect the dots. "We have also identified the syndicate involved in passport forgery," said Inspector Sontosh.
Asked, Banaj Kumar Majumdar, deputy inspector general of PBI, said, "We have learnt about the involvement of the foreign organisation ERC in passport forgery from the confessional statement of the arrestees."
"We're investigating the case with highest priority and trying to arrest the racket," he added.
This correspondent has been trying to get in touch with the ERC for the last two weeks.
The newspaper sent e-mails to the ERC Education Team (the address Yusuf had been using to contact the ERC) and the chairperson of the organisation multiple times but to no avail.
On its website, ERC mentioned that it has a branch in Chattogram's Khulshi area and provided a phone number.
Despite repeated attempts, that number was found switched off while no one in the area [Khulshi] seemed to know of any such office.