Bangladesh Sees Meth Boom Amid Rohingya Crisis

Rohingya Muslims Myanmar genocide ethnic cleansing
A group of Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy road after travelling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf Photo: Reuters

Bangladesh security forces have seized nearly nine million methamphetamine pills in less than three months as a massive influx of Rohingya refugees brings increased smuggling from Myanmar, officials said 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 coast guards 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 told AFP.

“It is the biggest ever yaba seizure by the BGB,” he said. The guards arrested 11 smugglers in March, including seven Rohingya.

Coast guards 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 told AFP that the trafficking flourishes because of the difficulty patrolling the 54 kilometres (33 miles) 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,” Mr. Chowdhury said.

“It is a way to make easy money,” he added, explaining that a yaba pill bought on the Myanmar border for 20 U.S. cents can be sold at three-four 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 coast guard officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.