Last straw? Bangladesh threatens to open fire along border with Myanmar to curb human trafficking, smuggling

Talking tough against smuggling along its border with Myanmar border, a senior Bangladesh minister on Tuesday said the country’s border guards have been instructed to open fire to stop arms and drugs smuggling and human trafficking

Oct 05, 2021
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Bangladesh threatens to open fire along border with Myanmar

Talking tough against smuggling along its border with Myanmar border, a senior Bangladesh minister on Tuesday said the country’s border guards have been instructed to open fire to stop arms and drugs smuggling and human trafficking.

"We had decided never to open fire at the border. But I had a discussion with the home minister (Asaduzzaman Khan) yesterday (Monday) about the current situation at the border and decided that we will open fire in the future," Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told media persons.

"Only then crimes like human trafficking or drugs and arms smuggling will stop,” Momen said after a program at Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital.

The foreign minister said, "We have a history with Myanmar. In 1982, two lakh (200,000) Rohingyas came to Bangladesh and were repatriated through negotiations. In 1992, another 2.53  lakh (253,000) Rohingyas arrived and 2.36 lakh (236,000) of them returned while others were taken by UNHCR. This time the number is bigger -- 11 lakh (1.1 million)."

Four years ago, in late August 2017, there was a massive influx of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh following a military-backed violent "clearance operation" in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Bangladesh has since then repeatedly been raising the issue of repatriation of these refugees with other countries and in various multilateral fora.

Referring to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's statement on Monday that some agencies were benefitting from the presence of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Momen said, "We are talking about repatriation. But several international agencies are talking of long-term rehabilitation. There has been no conflict in Rakhine for the last four years; yet, they (agencies) do not tell them (Rohingyas) to repatriate. All they (agencies) talk about is keeping them in good condition and about their human rights here."

"They (agencies) are making absurd demands like giving Rohingyas the right to buy land, giving opportunities in employment and proper schooling. But these are not acceptable. Their (agency) intention is: if they (Rohingya) stay here, their (agencies) employment will be extended. The world is paying a lot for them, and we don't know how that money is being spent," the minister said.

During a virtual interaction with the media on Monday, PM Sheikh Hasina lashed out at international agencies without taking any names.

"As if everything is business," she said, adding that the international community does not respond positively to the topic of Rohingya repatriation.

"I'm very sorry to say this, but it seems that for some agencies, keeping refugees is like a business," she said.

"Otherwise they wouldn't have any job," she was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.

There are some who are sincere, but for others, it seems to be a business, she lamented.

Bangladesh and Myanmar share a 270-kilometer border, from the tripoint with India’s Mizoram state in the north, to the Bay of Bengal in the south. About 210 km (130 mi) of the border is fenced, with the government of Myanmar announcing in 2017 that it was planning to fence off the rest of the border.

According to the Institute of Peace and conflict Studies, the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is known for criminal activities, including human trafficking, arms and drugs smuggling, and robbery. Additionally, the existence of improvised explosive devices in the border areas also created a trust deficit between the two neighbors.

(SAM)