Rohingya camps must be made more secure

ARSA or not, the priority should be refugees’ safety and repatriation

The recent and continued reports of increasing violence in the Rohingya refugee camps are deeply concerning. According to a report by this daily on Saturday, refugees claim their camps have become hubs of criminal activities carried out by members of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA). Their tightening grip on the already insecure camps (with only three battalions of the Armed Police Battalion employed to enforce law and order) came to light after Rohingya activist Mohib Ullah was assassinated in late September. In October, about 50 criminals entered a camp madrasa, killed six men and escaped.

This state of affairs in the camps, where Rohingya refugees fled for a safe refuge after facing severe persecution and torment at the hands of the barbaric Myanmar military, is simply not acceptable. Refugees reportedly are afraid to even say that ARSA is carrying out crimes, such as drugs and weapons peddling, human trafficking and extortion, but that they know exactly which people among them belong to this group of insurgents. If the refugees are afraid to speak out to the authorities to reveal the criminal elements in their camps, it is amply clear that it is because the authorities are unable to guarantee their safety. How else can ARSA members "take absolute control of the camps at nighttime"—according to a Rohingya refugee who recently spoke to The Daily Star?

To date, the government and law enforcers have argued that the insurgent group does not exist in the camps, and that regular criminals claim to be ARSA members in order to intimidate other refugees. Experts construe that the reason behind this denial is that the existence of terrorists amongst refugees would threaten the repatriation goal of Bangladesh. Rohingya sources have also suggested that the recent killings are a deliberate attempt by ARSA to thwart the repatriation process. Which is why, the security threat that they pose must be taken with utmost seriousness by the authorities. ARSA or not, we fail to understand why security is still not sufficient within the camps, even after the brutal killings of the past two months. 

While the claims of refugees that ARSA members within the camps are funded by Myanmar agents should be looked into, it should not distract the authorities from prioritising Rohingya refugees' safety. The debate of whether criminals within the camps belong to ARSA or not may delay the only solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis: their safe and dignified repatriation to their motherland. We would therefore urge the authorities to not only deploy more law enforcers to the camps, but to actively engage in dialogue with the Rohingya refugees themselves and work with them to weed out criminals from the camps and create a safer environment. At the same time, wider networks in the Cox's Bazar region, especially in terms of weapons and drugs trafficking, must be dismantled in order to stop the enabling of the criminal networks that operate within the camps.