Rohingya in Bangladesh camps fear both the police and ARSA

Rohingya refugees living in sprawling camps near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh say they are caught in the middle of alleged police “atrocities” and violence by an armed group with members within the community.

Bangladesh security forces launched a crackdown following the killing of Mohibullah, a prominent Rohingya activist, who was shot dead at close range by gunmen at his office in the Kutupalong refugee camp at the end of September.

Following Mohibullah’s murder, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen pledged to take “stern action” against the assailants, saying “no one will be spared”. More than 170 Rohingya have been arrested so far as part of the crackdown.

The refugees say Mohibullah’s murder has become a pretext for the Bangladeshi forces to treat them aggressively, with allegations of blackmail, extortion, violence, and even sexual assault being made.

Al Jazeera spoke with some of the refugees about the allegations.

Ahmed* said he witnessed armed personnel asking a woman to “remove her niqab (veil)”.

In another case, he claimed to have witnessed a distressed woman shouting at a checkpoint.

“When I asked her the reason, she said the police used security reasons to touch her private parts,” he said.

He said the ramped-up security measures after Mohibullah’s death have made nearly every Rohingya in the camp a suspect.

“Ninety-nine percent of the refugees are not bad but they treat us like we are all the same.”

He said he was also interrogated about new telephone numbers in his contacts list.

“They will check our WhatsApp, Facebook, email, messenger. If they find foreign contacts, they accuse us of selling information and working with terrorists. Unless we give money, they will take us to the police station. They treat us as less than animals,” he said.

He said checkpoints at the camps remind him of being in Myanmar under brutal military rule. “The police don’t have humanity or compassion. When a person needs help, all they demand is money.”Bangladesh’s Armed Police Battalion Chief Naimal Huq rejected the allegations of blackmail and extortion.

The aftermath of Mohibullah’s murder

Mohibullah, 46, was a former science teacher who became the leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, an NGO he formed to document the Myanmar military’s brutal offensive that caused 750,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in August 2017.

Locals say his non-violent attempts at securing the safe repatriation of the refugees clashed with the armed-conflict approach propagated by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group Mohibullah’s family accused of murdering him.

ARSA, formerly known as Harakatul Yakeen, first emerged in October 2016. It claims to fight for more than a million Rohingya who have been denied basic rights, including citizenship.

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