Relief goods flood local markets
Every evening, a mad rush grips Court Bazar and Moricchya Bazar where locals crowd to buy goods at surprisingly lower than average prices.
Keeping watch for two days, this correspondent observed that the goods on sale are actually relief materials given to Rohingya refugees in numerous camps in Cox's Bazar.
In a desperate rush for cash, Rohingyas are selling leftover relief items, flooding the local markets of Teknaf and Ukhia Upazila with them and causing concern among local businessmen as they fear losing business to this "unscrupulous syndicate".
Most of the Rohingya families were seen selling the surplus goods provided twice a month by UNHRC, World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN.
They receive the aid at noon and sell them in the evening at the local market next to their camps including the ones in Kutupalong, Thangkhali and Balukhali.
Few hours later, the same goods are seen being sold three to five miles away at Ukhia Bazar, Court Bazar and Moricchya Bazar.
The surplus aid items include rice, lentils, soybean oil, powder milk and biscuits. Apart from these, goods like tarpaulin, utensils, buckets and blankets were also seen being sold, a common scenario for the last one and a half months.
Syed Hossen, one of the locals engaged in buying and selling of relief goods, told The Daily Star that a 30kg sack of rice will cost one half the price being charged in market.
“A sack of 30kg rice is being sold at Tk 900, while a 4.5kg sack of lentil is Tk 140 only,” he added.
Another man who was selling tarpaulin at Court Bazar said he was selling white tarpaulin for Tk 900 a piece while the red one would be sold at Tk 800.
He said they avoid the check points to facilitate the transport of goods to nearby markets.
Asked, Md Nikaruzzaman, upazila executive officer of Ukhia, told The Daily Star that some villagers enter the camps in the evening and buy the items at a cheap rate.
To prevent the relief items from being smuggled, the upazila administration beefed up their surveillance and intensified patrolling, he added.
He said that a few days ago, they seized 300kg of rice sentencing the accused to one month in prison. He added that they are conducting regular drives to stave off such incidents.
“All the check posts are positioned on the main road making it difficult to trace the people carrying relief items through narrow village roads. We are beefing up our patrols even through villages to check this incident,” he added.
Adil Chowdhury, president of Court Bazar Business Association, told The Daily Star that due to this unscrupulous activity, they were suffering beyond words.
“Every item is being sold at half the market price leaving our commodities unsold. A 50kg sack of rice is being sold at Tk 1,000 while its market price is Tk 3,000. Lentil, soap, powder milk and soybean oil are being sold for half the market price,” he added. He hoped that the administration would take steps regarding the losses of the businessmen.
Rohingya refugees say that they need cash to fulfill other wants of their families. As the food is ensured, they try to meet other demands like a mobile phone and also to purchase different food as they have gotten bored eating the same things since their arrival here.
Gofur Abdullah, who came from Bolibazar, Myanmar, and took shelter at Kutupalong refugee camp, told The Daily Star that people who managed to get two cards (issued by WFP) are involved in selling relief items to get money for other things.
“What would one do when he or she likes to eat something different than their daily prosaic meal? When people have cash, he can buy whatever he is in need of,” Gofur said.
Each month, Gofur gets two consignments of food aid that includes 35kg of rice, 4.5kg of lentil, 2 litres of soybean oil and 1kg of sugar.
“Some of the people are trying to buy a phone to contact their relatives still trapped in Maungdaw. Without cash, it is impossible to have a phone. It benefits both the sellers and the buyers, as things are being sold at half the market price,” said Amir Uddin, another refugee hailing from Thami village of Maungdaw.