‘Biggest ever seizure’: Bangladesh reports meth boom during Rohingya crisis
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since August 25, joining another 300,000 already living in camps along the border for many years
Bangladesh security forces have seized nearly 9 million methamphetamine pills in less than three months as a massive influx of Rohingya refugees brings increased smuggling from Myanmar, officials said on Tuesday.
Increased raids on fishing boats on the Naf river, which divides the neighbours, have reaped the massive haul of yaba pills which are snapped up by Bangladesh youth.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops in the border town of Teknaf have seized some 5.16 million of the caffeine-laced meth pills and coastguards have confiscated 3.47 million pills since January 1, officials said.
“In one raid on March 15, we seized 1.8 million yaba pills abandoned in four sacks in the Naf river,” border guard commander Lieutenant Colonel Asadud Zaman Chowdhury said. “It is the biggest ever yaba seizure by the BGB.”
The guards arrested 11 smugglers in March, including seven Rohingya. Coastguards patrolling the Bay of Bengal arrested six Myanmar citizens and seized some 300,000 pills from one fishing boat this month, a senior officer said.
Yaba is a Thai word meaning “crazy medicine”. The pills have become an easy source of income for the Rohingya who have poured across the border since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in their home Rakhine state in August last year.
The refugees act as yaba carriers, handing over the pills to dealers on the Bangladesh side of the border who then take them to the country’s main cities, according to police.
Border guards and counter-narcotics officials said the trafficking flourishes because of the difficulty patrolling the 54km of the Naf which acts as the border between the two countries.
The pills are produced in bathroom-sized labs on the Myanmar side of the border, according to a Bangladeshi counter-narcotic official.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh since August 25, joining another 300,000 already living in camps along the border for many years.
“The number of people who were used as carriers has increased due to the influx. The internal carriers have increased. Some of them are desperate just for survival,” Chowdhury said.
“It is a way to make easy money,” said Chowdhury, who explained that a yaba pill bought on the Myanmar border for 20 US cents can be sold at US$3-4 dollars in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for “zero tolerance” on yaba smuggling from Myanmar and ordered an increased anti-narcotics drive along the border, the coastguard officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.