Illegal stay thru' dubious means | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 10, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 10, 2012

Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar

Illegal stay thru' dubious means

Children of Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp at Teknaf in Cox's Bazar study Burmese language. Inset, a fake birth certificate seized from a Rohingya girl. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

A group of policemen last month came across a girl at the entrance to Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in the district's Teknaf. She wanted to enter the camp “to meet her sister”.
She claimed to be a Bangladeshi, showing her birth certificate.
Suspicious, the law enforcers challenged her claims. Faced with questioning, the girl finally admitted to being a Rohingya Muslim living in the area.
Police seized the birth certificate but took no further action.
Signed in March by No 2 Hnila Union Parishad Chairman Mir Qashem, the document mentioned the girl's nationality as Bangladeshi.
This correspondent on a visit to the camp in the third week of last month learnt about the incident from a police official.
A common allegation and concern of locals is that many of the Rohingya intruders are enlisted as the country's voters and have Bangladeshi birth certificates, national identity cards and passports.
Mir Qashem, the UP chairman, also echoed the same and regretted that some Bangladeshis let the Rohingyas use their names and addresses to put on citizenship papers.
“Many Rohingyas move to other districts, including Dhaka, to manage national ID cards and passports and enlistment in the voter list by using false information," he said. Middlemen help them on this in exchange of money.
"Rohingyas desperately try to be Bangladeshi; they get financial help from their network in different countries, including Saudi Arabia, and thus pay the brokers who charge Tk 30 to 40 thousand for illegal documents."
Asked about the birth certificate he had signed for a Rohingya girl, Qashem said, "If so, of course it was my mistake. We don't know all those who come to us for birth certificates."
The chairman claimed he had issued the birth certificate through “due process” following recommendations from elected members of his office or qualified organisations in his area.
Due to weak and flawed monitoring as well as a lack of awareness among locals, many Rohingyas have even purchased land in this area, he said.
At a meeting last month, elected representatives to local government and officials of district administration and Election Commission in Cox's Bazar widely discussed the problem over the inclusion of Rohingyas on the voter list.
Mir Qashem was present at the discussion. "We suggested removing the Rohingyas from the voter list and preventing such attempts,” he said. “We're also trying our best to stop Rohingyas getting birth certificates.”
Jainal Bari, deputy commissioner of the district, said, "Already 30 to 35 thousands such names have been dropped from the voter list [in Cox's Bazar]."
He said the authorities were moderating the voter registration process in the district to obstruct Rohingyas from being voters.
The district admin boss admitted that a very large number of illegal Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar had created a lot of problems.
Apart from around 29 thousand registered refugees of camps in Teknaf and Ukhia, quarter to half a million Rohingyas have also been living in the region for years.
DC Bari said these illegal immigrants mean a huge socioeconomic pressure. "The population also has damaged the environment."
The Rohingyas have settled in hills and forests of the rural areas of Cox's Bazar. They cut down trees to cook and earn some bucks and are also involved in crimes like killing, trafficking and drug smuggling, locals say.
Some insurgent groups of Rohingyas maintained close links with banned Islamist outfits Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (Huji) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). They helped the Bangladeshi militants in many ways, including by providing training on arms and explosives and also financially, a former arms trainer of Huji told this correspondent.
Despite all this, nobody at grassroots level has any idea yet about an ultimate solution.
The solution, the DC said, depended on government policy and decision. "First we have to address the issue of registered refugees and then that of illegal Rohingya immigrants."
The chief of the Cox's Bazar district administration also said, "We should let them [Rohingya intruders] know that it wouldn't be anymore possible for them to stay in Bangladesh illegally."
Another local administration official said Bangladesh by allowing a quarter of a million refugees in 1991-1992 had opened the door for other Rohingyas to come here illegally in the name of visiting relatives and former neighbours and co-villagers. “But their sole purpose is to settle here.”
The official added that intrusion had become easy as the refugee camps were very close to the Myanmarese bordering area.
Had the camps been far away from the border, establishing a network between the Rohingyas on both sides would have been difficult.
The camps are not well-protected either. In the absence of fences, refugees can go outside the camps though they are not allowed to do so. Other Rohingyas can sneak into the camps easily.
Concern is there for around the 29 thousand registered refugees of the two camps as their repatriation has been stalled since 2005.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been pushing Bangladesh for a resettlement of those refugees in third countries. According to the agency's website, in 2006-2010, more than 900 refugees had the chance.
“However, in November 2010, the Bangladesh authorities suspended resettlement pending the formulation of a refugee policy. The UNHCR has made strong appeals to the Government to revoke its suspension of the resettlement programme,” reads the website.
Also, the Bangladesh government and the UNHCR are locked in debate on programmes for the camps, building walls around them and repatriation, reintegration and resettlement of refugees.
However, amid all complications, the authorities have been teaching the Burmese language to the children of Rohingya refugees in schools in the camps so that they do not get detached totally from their own culture.

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