'What Choice Do I Have?' Rohingya Refugees Resort To Meth Trade

“But what choice do I have? If I had money, I would not do this work or be engaged in such crimes. If I had money, I could live out my life in a nice way.”


Bangladesh has long been battling extremism and terrorism and another problem the country has struggled to cope with for years is drug abuse.

However, smuggling of meth pill from southeastern border of Myanmar remains a challenge for the Bangladeshi authorities. 

The caffeine and methamphetamine pill, commonly known as Yaba or “crazy medicine,” is a popular street drug that is being traded in Bangladesh. It usually comes in the form of colorful, candy-like tablets.

The pill is reportedly manufactured in Myanmar and is then slipped into the country in a huge amount.

Drug seizures data from the Department of Narcotics Control shows a dramatic increase in methamphetamine or “yaba” pill seizures beginning in 2015. It also suggests the drug trade has grown, but much of the increase happened three years ago.

The pill was initially transported into the country illegally by drug cartels but the recent Rohingya influx into Bangladesh has made it easy for the drug to reach its destination as people living in camps hosting these refugees have been appointed as drug mules.

Since August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to settle in grimy Bangladeshi camps after what Washington and human rights agencies described as “ethnic cleansing” in a violent campaign led by the country’s army.

According to authorities, ever since the large number of refugees entered the country, they have seized more than 10 million pills of yaba from Rohingya refugees who resettled in camps at Cox’s Bazar.

“At the beginning of the influx, we couldn't search every Rohingya man for possession because of the miserable conditions of the camps. We gave them open access to our borders, and that's why some drugs have come in,” said Md Saiful Hasan, senior assistant to the special commissioner of Cox's Bazar's district.

Apart from seizing the drug in large quantities, security forces also arrested hundreds of people.

One of the refugees, a 35-year-old man who remains unidentified, was arrested by authorities for transporting the drug. He claimed of receiving $60 for shifting every 1,000 pills from Kutupalong refugee camp to a tourist destination in Cox’s Bazar.


He added he is forced to distribute the drug because he has a family to look after and their current situation doesn’t offer these refugees many options.

The man in question fled Myanmar in 2016 along with his mother, wife and two sons. They left their home country with a  few clothes and nothing else. They had to start their lives all over again in a completely new country.

“I carry yaba to survive. I am compelled to do this job because I have to provide for my family. Since I am suffering financially, I cannot lead a fair life,” he said.

The man added, “We hid at different local people's residences. Once we were allowed to settle in the camp, we found life to be very difficult. We were hit with water shortages and shelter crises.”

He further said the conditions were so bad that at times they wouldn’t even have money to buy one small meal. He added he tried a lot to start a small shop but nothing worked and he eventually met a group of people in a camp who smuggled yaba pills.

“But what choice do I have? If I had money, I would not do this work or be engaged in such crimes. If I had money, I could live out my life in a nice way and ethical way, open a small shop. Nothing else,” he added.

Those who are caught transporting the drug face penalties.

People who have a small amount of the pills go through an instant trial and are sentenced for up to six months in jail or a fine.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are officially stateless. The government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. On the other hand Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.

The situation grew uglier for them in 2012, when Ashin Wirathu launched an anti-Muslim genocidal campaign, which set off a wave of bloodshed, resulting in hundreds of deaths of Rohingya Muslims, leaving more than 140,000 left homeless and over 100,000 forced to flee.

It became worse due to former Burmese President Thein Sein’s criminal silence over the actions of extremist Buddhists.

Many believed things would change for the better after Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s ascension to power. After all, she is someone who spent 15 years under house arrest for her pro-democracy stance and human rights activism.

But things have not changed, and by the looks of it, they are not going to change anytime soon either.

Now, thousands of Rohingya Muslims are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh where not only hygiene and sanitary issues are increasing but these camps are also at risk of landslides.

Spotlight, Banner: Reuters, Hannah McKay

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