Thousands of Rohingyas have used illegally obtained Bangladeshi passports to travel abroad for work. Although the government holds no data on the exact number of false passports in circulation, Expatriates Welfare Minister Nurul Islam said in April that about 250,000 Rohingyas had gone abroad with Bangladeshi passports.
The minister said Bangladeshi workers are facing an “image crisis” as a result. “The Rohingyas obtained passports by providing fake documents from local union council chairmen and other local government authorities,” he said. “Many of them are involved in criminal activities abroad.”
The large number of Rohingyas with Bangladeshi passports puts into focus the administrative weaknesses that allowed the Myanmar nationals to illegally obtain passports of another country. A local broker at Cox’s Bazar passport office told the Dhaka Tribune that an illegal passport costs between Tk60,000 and Tk100,000.
Mosarraf Mia is one of the Rohingyas who managed to get one. He came from Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2001 and took shelter in Kurupalong registered camp. He landed a job at a local restaurant within a few months.
Over the next decade, he established contacts with locals and a number of government officials, finally acquiring a Bangladeshi national identity card for himself at the end of 2012. He later obtained a Bangladeshi passport and flew to Saudi Arabia. Mosarraf’s wife, Khadiza, fled to Bangladesh in 2002. Now, Khadiza and their two sons also have Bangladeshi NID cards – both the boys were born in Bangladesh and now go to a local school.
Khadiza’s younger brother Shahidullah, 23, has been studying at a Cox’s Bazar madrasa since 2013. He said many from their village had come to Bangladesh for study. “Many return home while some others, like me, try to obtain Bangladeshi passports and go abroad,” he said.
Shahidullah’s mother and two other younger brothers have been living in Balukhali Rohingya camp after fleeing Myanmar last year. They have so far avoided biometric registration at the camp. “Once we are biometrically registered, we will not be able to obtain Bangladeshi NID cards or passports,” he said.
Kajal Sowdagar, a 45-year-old Rohingya man from Kutupalong camp, came to Bangladesh in 1991. He said getting a Bangladeshi passport was easier before 2000. “I stayed in Saudi Arabia from 1998 to 2004,” he said. “I am trying to get visa but it has become difficult now.”
Another Rohingya man, Selim, who fled from Buthiadaung’s Kinisi area, told the Dhaka Tribune that he had travelled to Malaysia on a Bangladeshi passport. “The Malaysian government sent me back after finding out that I had fake documents,” the 29-year-old said. “I managed to get a Bangladeshi passport as I had good contacts with locals. I am now trying to go to another Muslim country.”
How a passport is obtained illegally
Sultan Ahmed, a local broker at Cox’s Bazar passport office, described how a passport is obtained illegally.
“We first collect some genuine NID cards of local Bangladeshis who are of the same age as our clients,” he said. “Then, we collect birth certificates from union councils in remote areas with the NID cards. Later, we apply for passport with the genuine NID card, the photo of the NID holder and birth certificate.”
Sultan said they have contacts at the passport office. “My clients go there for biometric registration and taking photos for passports. Some passport officials help us in exchange for money but sometimes when senior officials scrutinize the documents, our clients are caught,” he said.
The broker said they stay away from the passport office during the whole process. Another broker, Sohel, said before the introduction of Machine Readable Passports, it was very easy to illegally obtain a passport. “It is now quite hard because of the strict vigilance of the authorities,” he said.
Two Rohingya women who were caught trying to obtain Bangladeshi passports illegally said a local school teacher contacted them and 10 other Rohingyas to offer them Bangladeshi birth certificates in exchange for Tk10,000 to Tk20,000 each. At the same time, these Rohingyas also contacted another syndicate to obtain passports for Tk40,000 each. They said that there are some syndicates in the camp areas who made such offers.
A Dhaka Tribune investigation revealed that the two Rohingya women used genuine birth certificates and NID cards of two locals named Tayeba and Chenoara. They are the daughters of Rohingya man Oli Ahmad, who came to Bangladesh in 1991. The two imposters are Oli’s relatives.
Cox’s Bazar police and the district administration have found that more than 300 Rohingyas have obtained NID cards illegally since last October. Two passport offices in Chittagong have found over 250 cases where Rohingyas attempted to get Bangladeshi passports with forged documents this year. The Rohingyas spread to other parts of the country when vigilance in the Chittagong region increased.
Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury said they were conducting thorough examinations before providing anyone with any citizenship documents as the language, appearance, culture and approach of the Rohingyas are almost the same racially as that of the locals.
Cox’s Bazar police chief AKM Iqbal Hossain said: “We are working round the clock to prevent Rohingyas from obtaining Bangladeshi citizenship documents. We are keeping an eye on them.”
Some newly arrived Rohingyas are now using fake documents and taking support from brokers to try and get Bangladeshi passports. Many of the Rohingyas are avoiding the government-run biometric registration while making deals with some ill-motivated locals and brokers.
Cox’s Bazar Regional Passport Office’s Assistant Director Abu Nayeem Masum, confirming this, said: “The Rohingyas are using genuine documents of locals attempting to make passports in their names. They are paying some brokers and locals for this.”
On November 1, two Rohingya women, Tayeba and Chenoara, were given one month imprisonment on charges of attempting to make passports with falsified documents. The Dhaka Tribune found that the two Rohingya women used genuine documents of two local women, the actual Tayeba and Cheonoara, to try and get passports.
The two local women – residents of Ukhiya’s Haldiyapalong area – are daughters of a Rohingya man Oli Ahmad, who came to Bangladesh in 1991 and married a local woman. The fake Tayeba and Chenoara are nieces of Oli Ahmad who have come to Bangladesh recently.
Oli Ahmad, however, denied the matter saying that he just sheltered the two Rohingya women. But local UP Chairman Shah Alam told the Dhaka Tribune that the Rohingya women were Oli’s relatives.
Another Rohingya woman, Rezia Begum, on November 13 attempted to submit an application for a passport hiring fake parents and using falsified documents. Rezia was given a three-month term by a mobile court. Her fake parents managed to flee. Cox’s Bazar Regional Passport Office sources said more than 250 applicants were trying to get Bangladeshi passports illegally with most being Rohingya women.
In October, Cox’s Bazar Sadar upazila administration found that one Shamsur Rahman, headmaster of Paschim Gomatoli High School, had taken a large amount of money from several Rohingyas saying he would provide them with documents by forging signatures of local officials.
The local administration came to know this after arresting two Rohingyas through a mobile court on October 31 when trying to enlist as voters, said Md Noman Hossain, upazila nirbahi officer of Cox’s Bazar Sadar upazila.
The two Rohingya confessed before the mobile court that the teacher also made such deals with more than 10 Rohingyas in exchange for Tk10,000 to Tk20,000 per person. The accused teacher had forged the signature of the UNO, local Union Parishad Chairman Rafiq Ahmad and Cox’s Bazar District Election Officer Mozammel Hossain for providing false information and documents to make the Rohingyas voters. The teacher, however, is on the run.
Not only in Cox’s Bazar, two passport offices in Chittagong have also found more than 200 cases this year where Rohingyas have been attempting to get Bangladeshi passports with falsified documents, said Chittagong Divisional Passport Office sources.
It is alleged that more than 1,000,000 Rohingyas who first fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar had gone to different countries using the Bangladeshi passport in the last 20 years, Foreign Ministry sources said.
Shahidullah, 25, a Rohingya studying at a local Qawmi madrasa in Cox’s Bazar since 2013, said that his stepsister and her in-law’s family came to Cox’s Bazar about 15 years ago while his brother-in-law Mossaraf Mia (pseudonym) has been in Saudi Arabia for several years.
Another Selim, who fled from Kinisi area under Buthidaung township of Myanmar, told the Dhaka Tribune: “I have visited Malaysia with a Bangladeshi passport; later, the Malaysian government sent me back after discovering that my documents were fake.”
The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission estimated that about 631,322 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh till November 20 after being displaced by the Myanmar Army. The International Committee of the Red Cross (IRC) assumed 200,000 more Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar in coming weeks, bringing the total Rohingya population to over one million – only exacerbating an already unimaginable humanitarian crisis.
Some human trafficking syndicates are taking advantage of the situation of the helpless people with promises of work abroad and encouraging them to get Bangladeshi passports using false information and forged documents, said Inspector Manash Barua, in-charge of Special Police Camp at Rohingya camps.
Cox’s Bazar district’s Superintendent of Police AKM Iqbal Hossain said: “Police are showing zero tolerance so that no Rohingya can bag any citizenship facilities through any illegal ways. Police and intelligence agencies are continuously keeping a sharp eye on the displaced Rohingyas who were sheltered in Bangladesh on humanitarian grounds.”
Echoing the SP’s remarks, Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Ali Hossain said: “We are now checking before giving any facility to a person since our language, culture and physical features are identical to the Rohingya.”
A total 1,010,714 Rohingyas have registered their biometric data with the Bangladeshi government since September 12, 2017. The Press Information Department of Chittagong confirmed the numbers in a press release adding that the numbers were collected from 12 Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.
According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), the last count of Rohingya refugees till Wednesday was 673,430. “This kind of registration will help in the repatriation process of the displaced Rohingyas,” said Department of Immigration and Passport’s Director General Major General Md Masud Rezwan.
“About 12,000 to 13,000 Rohingya are being registered every day at seven biometric registration centres in Ukhiya and Teknaf. If this pace continues then we will be able to register all the Rohingyas in a month,” he added.
DIP’s Technical Engineer Squadron Leader Md Arefin Ahmed said this biometric database will also help in the relief distribution process, adding that they have registered all 10 fingerprints. “This will also ensure that the Rohingyas will not be able to assume Bangladeshi identities and apply for NIDs, passports or make a bank account,” he said.
Rajib Chowdhury, deputy general manager of Tiger IT, the company that is providing technical support in the project said not only will biometric registration help in the repatriation process but by following Germany’s example of registering Syrian refugees, we will also be able to locate the Rohingyas’ movement all over Bangladesh.
Biometric registration of Rohingya is going on in Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhia of Cox`s Bazar. To identify Rohingya, 10,81917 Rohingya was registered till Monday after the biometric system registration has been started on September 11. Among this, 739 Rohingya registered their identities yesterday.
Among the registered, there are 248 people are living at D5 block of Kutupalong camp in Cox`s Bazar. the total registered Rohingya of this camp are 95 829. The others registered are: 78 people in the Nayapara camp, total 1,035,885 people; 413 people in Thinakhali PT-2, total 95042 people. However, no Rohingya registration has been registered yesterday at Balukhali Camp, Thinakhali, Kutupalong, Lida, Shyamlapur and Unceeparang camp the PT-Off block.
Home Ministry, Disaster and Relief Ministry, law enforcing agencies, along with respective organizations have taken the decision of biometric registration after a meeting was concluded.
According to the decision of the meeting, biometric registration activities are being led by the Deputy Commissioner of Cox`s Bazar. International immigration agency (IOM) and the UN refugee agency UNHR are supporting the government of Bangladesh in this regard. Apart from this, the Directorate of Passport is also helping in this work.
After the Myanmar army`s brutal torture in Rakhine on August 25, the Rohingya started fleeing Bangladesh from there. Although there has been signed an agreement with Myanmar about repatriation of Rohingya, they are still entering Bangladesh. Besides, there are more than six and a half thousand Rohingya at the No Man Border in Tambru border. But registration is going on in biometric system to identify the Rohingya to return back Myanmar.