Unlikely link between Rohingya and Myanmar soldiers

TEKNAF: Huge quantities of meth are seeding unrest inside Bangladesh’s refugee camps, as jobless Rohingya turn drug runners for a criminal chain that stretches back to Myanmar — and the soldiers who drove them out.
The little red methamphetamine pills, better known as ‘yaba’, that have got Southeast Asia high for decades are pouring westwards from Myanmar.
Rohingya refugees are moving them across Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, which hosts around one million of their minority.
And drug money is bringing new problems to an already traumatised refugee community.
Bangladesh authorities warn shootings, extortion and kidnappings linked to drug disputes are on the rise, adding another layer of complexity and danger to life in the seething camps.
“Many young men are falling into the drug lords’ trap,” says Abdus Salam, a Rohingya community leader in the Shamlapur refugee camp. “It’s very easy to exploit refugees.”
Over 100 Rohingya have been arrested on drug charges since last August, when a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army expelled the minority into Bangladesh in huge numbers.
Drug seizures in Cox’s Bazar are skyrocketing, as organised crime gangs recruit from the vast pool of cheap and expendable labour.
On March 15, 1.8 million tablets were dumped along the Cox’s shore by spooked traffickers.
Days later, a further 900,000 were found abandoned in boats.
But a lot more are getting into Bangladesh undetected, according to the country’s Department of Narcotics Control, which estimates 250-300 million pills will be popped this year.
Drug money is also blurring dividing lines in unexpected ways, as ethnic Rakhine elbow their way into the trafficking racket into Bangladesh.
With the price of a yaba pill tripling to $3-$3.5 in Bangladesh “no one cares who is Rakhine or Rohingya”, explains Bangladesh Border Guard commander Lieutenant Colonel Asadud Zaman Chowdhury.
Nearly all of Bangladesh’s yaba arrives from Myanmar across the Naf river, which last year was packed with boatloads of fleeing Rohingya, their exit framed by dark billows of smoke from torched villages.
Now, the boats also ferry pills, made in the meth labs of eastern Myanmar.
They arrive around Teknaf, where locals say the trickle-down of narco profits can be seen in the souped-up motorbikes and lavish homes that stand out in an otherwise scruffy district. A single main road runs from Teknaf north to Cox’s Bazar City.
It is peppered with checkpoints, but still the poorest locals and increasing numbers of Rohingya take the daily risk of mulling drugs. — AFP