Having crossed over to Bangladesh from Myanmar to flee military persecution, unregistered Rohingya refugees are now spreading out across the country seeking better life opportunities, using their own resources as well as that of their relatives living in Bangladesh or abroad.
Sources at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the border district where the refugees are taking shelter, said several thousand Rohingya – particularly those who entered Bangladesh some time around August 26-27, when the latest military crackdown began – have moved to different districts around the country.
In the last seven days, refugees have been seen leaving Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf upazila on buses, trucks, minibuses and minivans to meet up with their family members elsewhere.
Many of the refugees told the Dhaka Tribune that they had not been registered biometrically yet.
Because of this situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all the Rohingya refugees entering Bangladesh, sources in the refugee camps said.
Police found Rohingya families settling in their relatives’ homes in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sunamganj, Manikganj and Feni in the last few days, our district correspondents reported.
Twenty Rohingya were detained in Manikganj’s Singair upazila and 13 in Feni’s Sonagazi upazila on Thursday alone.
The detainees were sent back to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar – the refugees found in Feni were sent to hospital first as they were all ill – but there are many more who have slipped through the law enforcement surveillance, said aid workers at camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas, requesting anonymity.
Most of these refugees were well-off in their homeland – the Rakhine state – owning businesses and properties. While they lost everything in the arson attacks by the Myanmar security forces, they were able to cross over with enough money to attempt to move out of the camps and build a better, dignified life, sources said.
These refugees are also getting help from local Bangalis in exchange for money, they added.
When contacted, Cox’s Bazar Assistant Deputy Commissioner and Executive Magistrate AKM Lutfor Rahman said after the initial outflow of refugees from Cox’s Bazar, steps were taken to stop them from leaving the camps.
“The district administration and the law enforcement agencies have put up check post and have a number of mobile teams in place to monitor Cox’s Bazar and make sure the refugees do not get out of the camps,” Lutfor told the Dhaka Tribune.
The Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) has set up camps on roads around the district for surveillance, local sources said.
However, these measures do not seem to be fool-proof, as the Dhaka Tribune met several Rohingya refugees who arrived in Cox’s Bazar last week and immediately moved further into the country.
One such refugee, named Setara, 27, was found with his wife, one-year-old daughter and 10 other people from his village, waiting for his relative to pick them up in Teknaf.
“I am waiting for my relative who lives in Banshkhali area of Chittagong. We are going to go to his house, then we will decide what to do next,” he said.
Like Setara’s relative, many Rohingya living in different corners of Bangladesh are taking in refugee families other than their own, some of the refugees said.
In some cases, Rohingya people living around the world, especially in the Middle East, are now coming to Bangladesh to get their family members in Myanmar out.
Ebadul, from Hararipara under Maungdaw in Rakhine, fled home years ago and eventually migrated to Saudi Arabia.
Last month, he came to Bangladesh and is currently staying at Shah Porir Dwip in Teknaf, waiting for his uncles and aunts to arrive from Hararipara.
“I am paying to get my family members out of Rakhine,” he told on Friday. “Once they arrive, I will take them to Dhaka. Then we will decide on what to do.”
There are some refugees who do not have any relatives in Bangladesh, but nevertheless want to move to different places and use their resources to build a better life.
Rahima Khatun, 43, also from Hararipara, used to own a small business and land properties in Rakhine.
“One of my sons lives in Qatar,” she said. “Another son of mine is a fisherman here [Cox’s Bazar] near the border. They sent me money. Now that I have come here, I want to settle down properly and live with dignity.”
Officials say what these refugees are trying to do could be risky – not to mention that going anywhere outside the refugee camps without proper documents would be illegal.
“If these refugees fail to register with the government or the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), they will not receive any facilities a refugee is entitled to. Every refugee entering Bangladesh must get registered with the authorities concerned,” said Assistant Deputy Commissioner Lutfor Rahman.
The government launched the biometric registration of new Rohingya refugees on September 11. As of Thursday evening, around 3,000 refugees have been registered.