A turf war between armed criminal groups in Rohingya camps in October this year killed at least eight people and forced thousands to flee following clashes that continued for a few days.
The police later arrested 12 people after days of gunfire, arson and abductions by gangs competing for dominance in the sprawling camps.
Such violence inside the camps and the surrounding areas has become a fairly common phenomenon recently. With the influx of Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, the socio-economic landscape of at least two upazilas in the district has changed over the last three years.
The number of criminal activities, especially arms- and drug-related cases, has increased steeply in Ukhiya and Teknaf where a string of camps have given shelter to about a million Rohingya refugees.
The number of murders and human trafficking-related crimes hit a record high in the camps in 2019 following a series of crackdowns by law enforcement agencies. During the crackdowns, the number of gunfights also saw a sharp rise.
According to data from local police, a total of 725 criminal cases were filed against 1,664 Rohingya people between August 2017 and 20 August, 2020. Most of the crimes were related to: illegal possession of arms and drugs, robbery, rape, abduction, smuggling, theft, murder, and human trafficking.
At least 103 Rohingya people, including women, were killed in gunfights with law enforcement agencies between 1 January, 2019, and 31 July, 2020. Law enforcement agency members said the Rohingyas had been involved in drug peddling, human trafficking and robbery in the camps and the adjacent areas.
The majority of the cases, 136, were related to possession of drugs or committing drug-related crimes and at least 17 arms cases were recorded in the first seven months-and-a-half of 2020, according to statistics.
Robberies and robbery-related crimes increased in 2020 compared to last year. A case was filed this year accusing 14 people while no case was filed in 2019.
"We see that many people have been arrested in the middle of the Bay of Bengal on their way abroad. Law enforcement agency members are frequently seizing narcotics," security expert Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain told The Business Standard.
He said both local and the Rohingya people are involved in the smuggling of narcotics.
"It is a matter of great concern. Human trafficking and drug smuggling were there in the past too. But the number of incidents has increased to a great extent," said Sakhawat.
He warned that if the law and order situation in the small area deteriorated, it would ultimately spread to the surrounding areas.
Shafqat Munir, head of Bangladesh Centre for Terrorism Research at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, told The Business Standard it is quite normal that there would be various crimes when such a large population is squeezed into such a small area.
He said the government would have to significantly bolster vigilance by law enforcement and security agencies to reduce the existing level of crimes in the area.
"Alongside, law enforcement agency members will have to work with community leaders in the camps and increase awareness at all levels against crimes and other incidents related to law and order," he added.
"If the crisis lingers, the internal crime situation may escalate further and there may be potential regional security implications. The international community needs to redouble its efforts to help Bangladesh find a speedy resolution to this crisis," explained Shafqat.
He said the government needs to work more with the international community to find a peaceful and speedy resolution to the crisis.
"We must acknowledge that Bangladesh has played a very important role in giving shelter to a large number of people who were fleeing genocide and crimes against humanity. However, Bangladesh cannot house these people indefinitely and it is absolutely critical that they return to their homeland at the earliest possible opportunity," said Shafqat.
The local police chief said they take measures irrespective of criminals' origins whenever crimes are committed.
"When crimes occur, we file cases and launch investigations. As there is a huge population, the tendency to commit crimes has increased and we take measures accordingly," said Md Hasanuzzaman, Cox's Bazar's superintendent of police.
Brigadier General Shazedur Rahman, region commander of BGB's Cox's Bazar unit, confirmed that the involvement of the Rohingyas in drug peddling had been increasing for the last few years.
"In the past, local people used to get involved in yaba peddling, but most of the arrested drug peddlers are now Rohingyas," he said.
He also said many local drug peddlers had gone into hiding after the government's crackdown on drugs.
"Also, the Rohingya people know the places in Myanmar better than locals. As a result, they are now being used as drug carriers," he added.