Rohingya refugees stage a demonstration for their rights on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on June 16. (Photo by AFP)
A series of killings in the refugee camps of southeastern Bangladesh has sparked fear among members of the displaced ethnic-Muslim minority as well as aid workers.
The unsolved murders of 19 people in Cox's Bazar area camps, along with a spate of robberies and myriad violent crimes, have prompted a decision to deploy 1,000 additional police.
The murders have occurred since August 2017 when a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar's Rakhine state caused a new wave of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee.
The international Reuters news agency reported on July 4 that most of the refugee camp murders happened in attacks at night, when there were less security personnel, by men variously armed with pistols, knives and sticks.
"We have been investigating 19 murder cases but have not reached conclusions yet," police superintendent Chailaw Marma told ucanews.com.
There were 2,500 police already guarding the camps, as well as some soldiers and border guards, but this was insufficient, he added.
About 300 Rohingya had been arrested for alleged involvement in crimes.
Cox's Bazar is home to about one million Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh to escape periodic bouts of deadly persecution in Rakhine, just across the border.
Abdul Kalam, 36, a leader in Balukhali camp, said he went into hiding for several weeks after being threatened anonymously by telephone callers claiming he received more humanitarian aid than they had.
Nurul Amin, 40, a Rohingya community leader in Kutupalong camp, argues the announcement that more police would be provided came too late. "If the decision came earlier, those lives wouldn't have been lost," Amin said.
He believed additional police would significantly improve security, but for now many people living in the camps or helping to run them were still afraid.
The spate of murders and killings had frightened the aid community, said Mazharul Islam, Cox’s Bazar-based disaster management officer for the Catholic welfare agency Caritas Chittagong.
"Every day we go to the camps with fear and without adequate safety. We have instructed our female staff to go in a group, not alone," he told ucanews.com.
"I believe poverty, lack of livelihood and desperation are reasons why the Rohingya remain vulnerable to criminal activities like killings and robberies."