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Apprehension remains over Rohingya involvement in national polls

Though the Election Commission has asked Rohingyas not to venture out of their camps in Cox’s Bazar for a certain period, locals fear that the refugees may spell trouble during the national election today. 

Md Ayub Majhi (leader) of Ukhiya’s Kutupalang Camp 5 said Rohingyas are coming out of their camps and going to various nearby places. “I am not sure where they are going or whether they are joining any political campaign,” he said.

On December 21, the Election Commission issued a circular restricting the movement of Rohingya people staying in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar during the 11th parliamentary election.

The circular, signed by Election Commission’s Deputy Secretary Atiar Rahman states that Rohingya refugees may be used in the national polls for creating anarchy in favour of different candidates.

To restrict their movement, the commission asked the authorities concerned to take necessary measures so that they cannot come out from the camps from 7pm on December 29 to 8am on December 31.

There was no such embargo on Rohingyas’ movement during the 2014 and 2008 elections, said Palangkhali Union Parishad Chairman Gafur Uddin Chowdhury.

“During those times, the Rohingyas had influenced the polls in many ways,” he said adding, “This year, after the electional schedule announcement, many Rohingyas went out of the camps in groups and some of them even got involved in campaigns.”

BLAME GAME

The ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP have accused each other of using the refugees for political gains ahead of the election today.

The local unit of Awami League claims that BNP and its allies are using Rohingyas in their campaigns. “Rohingyas have been seen in the processions of BNP candidates,” said Jahangir Kabir Chowdhury, the party’s Ukhiya Upazila unit general secretary.

He said they (Rohingyas) may cause problems during the election, a claim turned down by BNP leaders.

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury, BNP’s Ukhiya Upazila unit chief, claimed that the ruling party is using the Rohingyas in many ways. “They may even try to mobilise the Rohingyas on voting day [today] and use them against their rivals,” he said.

THE SMELL OF MONEY, AND BLOOD

Rohingyas are using the election season to earn some extra cash. But their involvement in the election process may lead to unrest, locals fear.

Advocate Ayachur Rahman, general secretary of Save Cox’s Bazar Movement, said a number of Rohingyas, who came to Bangladesh during 1978-79, had managed to enlist themselves as voters.

“Those Rohingyas and the new arrivals might get involved in the election and sabotage the polling booths,” he said.

“Rohingyas have been ordered not to leave the camps from 7pm of December 29 to 8am of December 31,” said Cox’s Bazar Returning Officer and Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain.

During this period, NGO workers and volunteers will also be barred from entering or leaving the camps in cars. However, they will be allowed to use cars to deliver food and emergency medical help.

Many locals say they feel the EC embargo should have been longer.

“This short-time ban has given Rohingyas the opportunity to take part in polls campaigns. We fear that they can cause large-scale violence,” said Gafur, also general secretary of Rohingya Repatriation Committee.

Meanwhile, law enforcement and security agencies are on alert.

Cox’s Bazar police chief AKM Iqbal Hossain has said the law enforcement agencies have been cautiously taking position around Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf while police, Rapid Action Battalion, Border Guard Bangladesh, and Ansar members are patrolling the sites.

 “It [the EC order] is to make sure that nobody can use the Rohingyas for political mileage or to cause disorder,” said Deputy Commissioner Kamal.

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