Stranded Rohingyas, a ticking time bomb

Since 2017, over 1.20 million Rohingyas fled Myanmar’s Arakan Province amid genocide and took shelter in Bangladesh. During these years, although international community, including the United States had repeatedly committed of exerting pressure on Myanmar in taking back these Rohingyas, in reality there is no real sign of effective measures taken by any of them. It may be mentioned here that, thousands of Rohingyas have also entered India and few other countries including European Union nations from Bangladesh. Taking advantage of desperate situation of Rohingyas, Al Qaeda through its franchise in Bangladesh has started recruiting them for jihadist agenda. On January 27, 2023, it was revealed by Bangladeshi law enforcement agency following arrest of a top leader of the banned jihadist outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI-B), who was recruiting Rohingyas in exchange for donations.

Similarly, Islamic State (ISIS) also has penetrated within Rohingyas while Tablighi Jamaat is serving the purpose of recruitment vessel of several global and regional jihadist outfits.

According to information, Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Bangladesh Police arrested an individual named Fakhrul Islam (58), who had visited Afghanistan and met Al Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden and several Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar while receiving advanced armed training.

CTTC sources said, Fakhrul Islam and his son Saiful Islam (24) regularly visited Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and lured them towards jihadist activities. They also were contacting several insurgency and terrorist groups in Chittagong Hill Tract areas with the agenda of getting armed and commando training to HuJI members in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district.

Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), meaning Islamic Jihad Movement or Movement of Islamic Holy War, is a Pakistan-based Deobandi militant group with the current stated goal of secession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from India and the region’s eventual incorporation into Pakistan. HuJI also propagates the idea of Islamic rule over all parts of India.

Originally named Jamiat Ansarul Afghaneen (JAA), the Party of the Friends of the Afghan People, HuJI was founded by Qari Saifullah Akhtar and his associates from Karachi to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In 1984, JAA renamed itself Harkat-ul-Jihadi al-Islami, and in 1989, at the end of the Afghan-Soviet war, the organization reoriented its focus to the cause of Muslims in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the early 1990s, HuJI member Fazlur Rehman Khalil broke away to form another militant organization, Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM). However, in 1993, under pressure from Pakistani spy agency ISI and Deobandi clerics, HuJI combined forces with HuM and formed Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) to begin operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Following the US designation of HuA as a terrorist organization in 1997, the group split and reverted to operating independently in order to evade authorities.

HuJI’s most active unit is known as HuJI Bangladesh, or HuJI-B. Founded in 1992, HuJI-B was associated with Osama bin Laden’s World Islamic Front for Jihad and operated through the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh led by Fazlur Rahman throughout its early years.

Beginning in the 1990s, HuJI received financial and logistical support from the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency, Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), to promote instability in Jammu & Kashmir. HuJI operations in J&K began in earnest in 1991, led by Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are believed to have ties to HuJI’s Pakistani founder, Qari Saifullah Akhtar. HuJI frequently operates alongside Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It has been known to provide manpower for JeM operations and there is documentary evidence that JeM compensated the families of HuJI members killed on JeM missions.

Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami maintains several sleeper cells across India in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. The group’s efforts in India have been supported by the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in the form of recruits, lodging, and logistical assistance. HuJI also maintains links with militant groups operating in India’s northeast, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF). Before 2009, HuJI was running some of ULFA’s camps inside Bangladesh.

HuJI presence has been reported in as many as 24 nations outside of South Asia including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Malaysia, UK, US, the Philippines and parts of Africa, although the extent of coordination among these units is unknown. HuJI maintains revenue collection offices across Pakistan and has a main office in Islamabad.

Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami is associated with Deobandi school of thought within Sunni Islam, a movement that originated in Uttar Pradesh, India, where HuJI has extensive operations. The group describes itself as the “second line of defense for every Muslim”, and aims to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan by waging attacks and promoting the Islamization of the societies.

Bangladesh chapter of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, aims to establish Islamic rule in the country by waging war and killing progressive intellectuals. It draws inspiration from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. At one point of time, it had issued a slogan, Amra Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will become Taliban and will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan).

HuJI has its main operational base in the coastal area stretching from the port city of Chittagong south through Cox’s Bazar to the Myanmar border. In addition to acts of terrorism, it has been involved in piracy, drugs and weapon smuggling. It reportedly maintains six training camps in the hilly areas of Chittagong and six more near Cox’s Bazar.

Rohingya Muslims from the Arakan province of Myanmar and Pattani Muslims from Southern Thailand also are members of HuJI. According to some reports, the Rohingya Muslims constitute the largest single group in the organization.

Jihadist groups in Bangladesh are particularly playing antisemitism cards with the ulterior agenda of gaining quick popularity. Unfortunately, such notorious trends are not countered or confronted by the law enforcement agencies, as many of them too consider Jews in particular as “enemies of Allah”. According to credible sources, the Iranian embassy (including Iran’s infamous cultural center) and Palestinian envoy in Bangladesh are extending patronization and support towards anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agendas of the local jihadist outfits. It is also alleged that the staffs inside Palestinian embassy and Palestinian students in Bangladesh are helping local jihadists in establishing connections with mega-terror outfit Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

The HuJI  of Pakistan is a  member of Bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998 and through its branch in Bangladesh, it has been trying to Arabize, Wahabize and radicalize the Muslims of Bangladesh, who are in their overwhelming majority descendants of converts from Hinduism, and use them  for carrying out its pan-Islamic agenda in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern Thailand, China’s Xinjian Province and beyond.

Rohingyas, a serious threat to India’s national security

In May 2018, Indian newspaper The Pioneer in an opinion editorial titled ‘Rohingyas: A security threat’ said:

India is neither a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention  nor to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that came to force in 1967. Still, refugees continue to pour and  the country has more than 3,00,000 refugees from 30 different countries. The number of illegal refugees may be much more.

According to reports, about 11 lakh Rohingyas have already reached Bangladesh and many may try to infiltrate into India. The UN termed it as “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya in Myanmar while the Army over there said that military action is against terrorists and that they are not averse to civilians. Unqualified Rohingya refugees are unacceptable as they are regarded as a burden on the economy. A majority of the Buddhist community in Myanmar considers Rohingyas as illegal Bengali migrants. No citizenship rights were given to the Rohingyas and numerous restrictions were imposed on them. Rohingyas are Sunni Muslims and have fought for an independent country in the past. In 1947 and 1971, they struggled to join East Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.

Rohingya Muslims have also constituted a few terrorist organisations, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, the Harkat-al Yaqin, the Arakan Rohingya and Salvation Army (ARSA) to wage war and establish an independent Muslim state. Unfortunately, a few Muslim terrorist organisations, especially in Pakistan, started assisting these terrorist outfits. Besides Pakistan, few Muslim organisations in the Middle East also pumped petro dollars into the coffers of Rohingya terrorist outfits.

[…] The Government of India has taken the righteous decision to not bow down to international pressure and instead, to repatriate Rohingya refugees. The Government should now be firm in dealing with biased Muslim organisations, NGOs, human right activists and hypocrites who do not think before criticising the Government. India has limited resources and huge population. Hence, people have full right on resources. Second, India is already fighting with terrorism at several places, including Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as well as left Wing Extremism.  Hence, India cannot afford a large number of radical Rohingyas in diverse parts of the country.

In October 2020, South Asia Monitor in a report titled ‘Rohingyas pose a grave security threat to Bangladesh: Relocation and repatriation an urgent necessity’ said:

Three years ago, the Rohingyas took refuge in Ukhiya-Teknaf when extreme violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes and sought safety in neighboring Bangladesh. But now the question that weighs everyone’s mind is that what is this conflict of dominance? Where have they got the money from? Why they had weapons? What was their ultimate plan?

According to various sources, a large number of Rohingya, who took refuge in the camp, are now said to be involved in drug trafficking and mixed up with human traffickers too. Many have left the camp and taken up residence in other residential areas and have mixed with the local population so it is difficult to keep a tab on them. It has been reported that a nexus has been formed between the local smugglers and Rohingya refugees.

According to the biometric registration of the Department of Immigration and Passports, the number of Rohingya entering Bangladesh was over 1.1 million. The Rohingyas were given shelter in 34 camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf camps in Cox’s Bazar.

At present, the number of Rohingya in these camps is over 900,000. Authorities are not able to explain where these missing Rohingya have gone. According to the Rohingya leaders in Ukhia and Teknaf, the number of unregistered Rohingya is more than 100,000. The wealthy Rohingya families, who fled Myanmar, are not relocating to these refugee camps, but are renting houses in different residential areas.

There are many fishermen, who are Rohingya refugees. Reports have surfaced that boat owners are forcing Rohingya to work for low wages. These Rohingyas could be involved in drug trafficking as the ocean provides the best trafficking route. In recent times, 90 percent of detainees for drug dealing in Cox’s Bazar are Rohingya.

In July 2021, Indian Lok Sabha was informed that illegal Rohingya migrants pose serious threat to country’s national security.

On July 9, 2021, The Diplomat in an opinion editorial titled ‘Indefinite Hosting of Rohingya Refugees a Growing Concern for Bangladesh’ said:

“On June 23, 2021, during the ninth Moscow Conference on International Security, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated a request for global cooperation to ensure the dignified and peaceful repatriation of Rohingya refugees, stating that “they are posing huge security threat to Bangladesh as well as the region.” Earlier, on June 16, expressing similar concers, the foreign minister of Bangladesh, A.K. Abdul Momen, during a bilateral meeting with the United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener at the Bangladesh Permanent Mission in New York, sought a clear roadmap from the U.N. for repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Momen said that if repatriations did not start soon, it would only deteriorate the overall situation in Cox’s Bazar, where large numbers of Rohingya are camped, and create instability in the region and beyond”.

It further said: “Bangladesh also has concerns over the recruitment of refugees into extremist networks by banned groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir [HuT] and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), as well as by radical Islamist groups such as HeI [Hefazat-e-Islam]. Reportedly, HeI’s influence in the refugee camps is growing among frustrated and traumatized Rohingya, which could fuel militancy not only in Bangladesh but across the wider region. Moreover, Rohingya militant groups active in bordering Myanmar — such as the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Rohingya National Alliance (RNA), and Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) — could also recruit refugees, further threatening Bangladesh’s internal security”.

In August 2022, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asserted that illegal migrants are a threat to national security and that the Modi government would never compromise on the issue.

In September 2022, India TV in a report said:

The Central Government has informed the Delhi High Court that there is contemporaneous data from security agencies’ inputs and other authentic material indicating linkages of some of the unauthorized Rohingya migrants with Pakistan-based terror organizations and similar organizations operating in other countries.

Over and above the said serious security concerns already in existence, the more disturbing part is that there is an organized influx of illegal migrants from Myanmar through agents and touts facilitating illegal Rohingya migrants into India via Benapole-Haridaspur (West Bengal), Hilli (West Bengal) and Sonamora (Tripura), Kolkata and Guwahati.

This situation is seriously harming the country’s national security, stated the affidavit filed by Centre Government in Delhi High Court.

The illegal influx of Rohingyas in significant numbers has started to the territory of India since 2012- 2013, stated the affidavit. It also submitted that due to an already existing large influx of illegal immigrants from the neighboring countries, the demographic profile of some of the bordering states has already undergone a serious change which is already causing far-reaching complications in various contexts and is taking its toll and has a direct detrimental effect on the fundamental and basic human rights of country’s own citizens.

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