Long-term Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are avoiding the government’s biometric registration of new arrivals in order to safeguard the facilities they enjoy from pretending to be Bangladeshi nationals.
To ease the distribution of relief aid and the repatriation process, the government is biometrically registering all of the Rohingya refugees who have entered Bangladesh since the latest Myanmar military crackdown began in August.
However, Over 100,000 Rohingya refugees who have entered the country over the past two decades have allegedly already travelled to other countries using Bangladeshi passports, sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Concerned authorities and local administration officials told the Dhaka Tribune that as a consequence, very few Rohingya who have been staying in the country for years have taken part in the current registration process.
“If we undergo biometric registration we might not be able to avail the opportunities that make our lives better,” said Shahidullah, a 25-year-old Rohingya youth who has been studying at a local Qawmi madrasa in Cox’s Bazar since 2013.
Shahidullah told the Dhaka Tribune that his step-sister and her in-laws’ family came to Cox’s Bazar around 15 years ago. His brother-in-law Mossaraf Mia (pseudonym) had managed to get a Bangladeshi passport by faking his nationality and identity, and has been working in Saudi Arabia for several years.
Admitting that such an approach is illegal, Shahidullah’s sister Mosammat Khadija, who is living with her two sons in Cox’s Bazar, said: “We have no other choice. We are doing this to lead a better life.”
Several officials of the Cox’s Bazar local administration claimed Rohingya refugees who entered Bangladesh before the recent crisis in Myanmar are not registering because it will be difficult to pose as a Bangladeshi national once registered.
Kajal Sowdagor (pseudonym), 45, currently lives in the Kutupalong Rohingya Camp and claimed that he registered after first entering the country in 1991.
“There is no need for further registration as we consider ourselves locals now. Many of us have been running businesses in the area for many years,” he said.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Kutupalong Rohingya Camp-1 in-charge Md Rezaul Karim said: “The Rohingyas’ language and culture are quite similar to the people of the Chittagong region. So it is easier for them to pose as Bangladeshi nationals here.”
Meanwhile, Ekramul Siddique, in-charge of Balukhali Rohingya Camp-2, said a significant number of Rohingya refugees are aware that if they undergo biometric registration, they would not be able take national identity cards or passports which are only legally available to Bangladeshi nationals.
From September 12 to November 6, a total of 428,819 Rohingya refugees have been biometrically registered.
DIP technical engineer, Squadron Leader Md Arefin Ahmed, told the Dhaka Tribune that the fingerprint data collected from the Rohingya during the biometric registrations is being stored in the Department of Immigration and Passports and National ID Card databases.
“This will prevent them from obtaining National ID cards or passports,” he said.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Bangladesh Media Officer Joseph Tripura said: “All the Rohingya people, both newcomers and those living in the country for years, are being biometrically registered.”
Meanwhile, DIP Assistant Director Tariq Salman said around 12,000 to 13,000 Rohingya refugees are being registered every day in 70 booths at seven biometric registration centres at Ukhiya and Teknaf.
According to Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), more than 623,000 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh from August 25 to November 6, to escape a crackdown in Rakhine state carried out by the Myanmar Army and local Mogh population.
They have added to the estimated 500,000 Rohingya who had already been staying at registered camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas for years. These refugees entered Bangladesh in different phases since 1991, escaping the oppression in their homeland.