Gangs, extortion in Bangladesh camps driving Rohingya sea exodus

Newly-arrived Rohingya refugees rest on a beach in Sabang island, Aceh province on Nov. 22, 2023 as they escape violence and brutality in Bangladesh camps. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 29 November 2023
Follow

Gangs, extortion in Bangladesh camps driving Rohingya sea exodus

  • Rohingya escape escalating brutality in the camps in and around Cox’s Bazar
  • Bangladesh defense ministry identifies at least 11 armed groups operating in the camps

LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia: Holding his son’s hand in a temporary shelter in Indonesia, Rohingya Mohamed Ridoi says he made the dangerous 12-day sea journey from massive refugee camps in Bangladesh to escape the pervasive threats of kidnapping, extortion and murder.
The 27-year-old said he was starting a “peaceful life” in a temporary shelter in Indonesia’s western Aceh Province, where more than 1,000 Rohingya people have arrived this month, the largest such influx since 2015.
He and others said they fled escalating brutality in the camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, which hold more than one million people and where gangs regularly abduct and torture residents for ransom.
“One of the groups kidnapped me and demanded 500,000 Bangladeshi taka ($4,551) to buy their guns,” Ridoi, who left with his wife, two children and his brother, said.
“They told me that if I couldn’t give them the money, they would kill me.”
He said he eventually paid 300,000 taka for his release last month and, within weeks, he was on a boat to Indonesia, arriving on November 21.
“We are not safe in Bangladesh. That is why I decided to go to Indonesia to save me and my family’s life,” he said.
Having first fled state-backed persecution in Myanmar — including a 2017 crackdown that is subject to a UN genocide probe — the refugees now find themselves pushed to undertake weeks-long journeys of more than 1,800 kilometers on packed, rickety boats.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and says it is not compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar, but neighboring countries have shut their doors, meaning they have almost no other options.
More than half a dozen boats have arrived in Aceh since November 14, and monitors say more are on their way, despite some locals turning arriving boats back to sea and stepping up patrols on the coast.
Human Rights Watch reported this year that criminal gangs and alleged affiliates of Islamist armed groups were causing fear at night in the Bangladesh refugee camps, which now number more than two dozen.
The Bangladesh defense ministry has identified at least 11 armed groups operating in the camps, but rights groups say Dhaka is not doing enough to protect refugees from the violence.
These gangs, vying for control and involved in activities like drug smuggling and human trafficking, have specifically targeted Rohingya community leaders and activists.
Aisha, 19, arrived in Aceh on the same boat as Ridoi with two children and her husband.
“They asked for money every night, threatening to abduct my husband. I couldn’t sleep at night because of them,” she said via an interpreter.
Bangladesh police say about 60 Rohingya people have been killed in violence in the camps this year.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW, said it appeared the Bangladeshi government “doesn’t care” about the refugees’ fate.
“The bottom line is the Bangladesh government just wants all the Rohingya to go back to Myanmar as soon as possible — even if (it) means subjecting the refugees to conditions of absolute misery in the camps so that they leave.”
Aisha, the young mother, said fear of the criminals pushed her family to pay 200,000 taka ($1,819) to illegal middlemen for her family’s boat journey to Indonesia, despite the risks.
Aisha said she preferred to “die at sea than in the camp.”
“I looked for a safe place for my children, hoping they could study and get an education,” she said.
Chris Lewa, director of Rohingya rights organization the Arakan Project, said food shortages were also worsening camp conditions and entire families were now leaving, instead of just groups of young men as seen previously.
“Now, the profile is different, now we have many families. Before there was not many,” she said.
“Nowadays we see small children, there are many families making their way. They just want to be away from Bangladesh.”
Aisha and her children now share a windowless room in a shelter in the Aceh city of Lhokseumawe with more than a hundred other women and minors, sleeping on mats on the floor without a fan in the tropical heat.
Aisha said that it was still much better than living in fear in the Bangladesh camp.
Ridoi also hoped that his decision to bring his family to Indonesia would bring a better life for his sons.
“I am not qualified to be a doctor or engineer, but I am doing my best to make them one,” he said.
“My children are everything to me.”


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 57 min 45 sec ago
Follow

Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.