Rohingya refugees are increasingly slipping through barbed wire-topped fences that surround their camps in southeastern Bangladesh in search of work, domestically or abroad, officials said Thursday.
Police said 437 Rohingya had been detained since July 7 after leaving their camps in Cox’s Bazar, while some told BenarNews that they needed to find work because humanitarian relief was barely enough to live on. Bangladeshi authorities prohibit the refugees from seeking employment outside their camps and settlements in the district.
“In a bid to enforce strict lockdown, we set up checkpoints at different places of Ramu upazila [sub-district]. Almost every day, Rohingya people are intercepted,” Pranay Chakma, chief of Ramu, an upazila or sub-district in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Thursday.
“They are residents of the camps in Ukhia and Teknaf," he said.
About 1 million Rohingya are sheltering in Cox’s Bazar, including more than 740,000 who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown there nearly four years ago.
Cox’s Bazar district police records show officers arrested and intercepted nearly 59,000 Rohingya attempting to flee the camps between August 2017, when the mass exodus from Myanmar began, and December 2020.
More recently, district police reported that security personnel intercepted 33 Rohingya on Wednesday and 64 on Thursday.
“They very often flee. Now, we can catch them because of the checkpoints. The interception hints that possibly the Rohingya trend of deserting camps has increased,” Chakma said.
“The Rohingya escapees do not move in a group; rather they cross the checkpoints individually,” he said.
Md. Hasanuzzaman, superintendent of police for Cox’s Bazar district, said officers set up five checkpoints around the area.
“When we catch Rohingya we send them back to the camps after interception,” he told BenarNews.
‘Bored with eating the same food’
A BenarNews correspondent who lives in the southeastern border region spoke to Rohingya who were caught trying to leave their camps.
Mahmudur Rahman, 35, a resident of Kutupalong Camp 2 in Ukhia, said he wanted to help his family.
“The World Food Program provides us rice, lentils, edible oil, salt and other foodstuffs. We are bored with eating the same food,” he told BenarNews.
“The children often ask for fish and meat, but we do not have money. So we go outside the camp for work for cash to buy that.”
Another refugee Nur Mohammad, 30, told BenarNews that he was heading to a nearby sub-district to find work.
“Many Rohingya get out of the camps for menial work at farms and brick kilns there. We also work as day laborers,” he said.
Locals, meanwhile, accused the Rohingya of taking jobs meant for Bangladeshis.
“We have given them shelter on humanitarian grounds. But within years, the refugees have become a threat to the local people. Many local people were killed by the Rohingya,” said Mahmudul Haque Chowdhury, the founder of Rohingya Repatriation and Prevention Committee, a local group demanding immediate repatriation of the Rohingya.
“The government erected barbed wire fencing around the camps to stop their movement but they have been fleeing the camps. This is a big threat for the host community,” he told BenarNews.
An official with another anti-Rohingya group made similar complaints about the refugees.
“Not only they have been exploiting the local job opportunities, they have been venturing to go to Malaysia by sea,” Ayachhur Rahman, general secretary of Save Cox’s Bazar Movement, told BenarNews.
“With the connivance of some local elected representatives and public servants, they have been collecting fake national identity cards and Bangladeshi passports to go to the Middle Eastern countries,” he said.
Md. Alam, president of the Ramu unit of the Citizens for Good Governance, called on authorities to stop Rohingya from leaving their camps.
In response, an additional superintendent in charge of policing at 11 camps, said efforts to control Rohingya movements were difficult.
“[M]any Rohingya cut the barbed wire fence and create new passages to get out of the camps,” Khandakar Ashfaquzzaman told BenarNews. “We immediately seal the passages whenever we trace them.
“Unless the job opportunities in local areas are stopped, the Rohingya will continue to get leave the camps,” he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.