The People’s Republic of Bangladesh (GoB) has an estimated population of 161 million. The majority of the population is young: approximately 75 million are under 25 (27% 0-14 and 38.14% 15-24). Among those, 46.40% are women (approximately 35 million). The Cox’s Bazar (CXB) district is located in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Division, a coastal area bounded by Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal. CXB is home to 2.3 million Bangladeshi nationals and approximately 900,000 Rohingya from Myanmar, hosted by the GoB in 34 camps. Due to lack of available land, the camps remain highly congested giving rise to a plethora of unmet basic needs. These areas are also beset with other problems such as malnutrition, disease and violence as well as continued vulnerability to trafficking, prostitution and drug peddling among other social problems. The overall population of Cox’s Bazar district has also become vulnerable to increasing criminological phenomena related to serious crimes, where different forms of organized crimes overlap and intertwine. The area is and has been vulnerable to arms, narcotics and human trafficking and human smuggling, armed robbery against ships, money laundering and transnational crime. The population in camps also appears to be affected by such criminal environment due to the proximity of the porous border with Myanmar. The port city of Chittagong makes the district more attractive to criminals as the port can be used as an entry/exit point for all types of illicit trafficking.
Bangladesh is also a destination and transit country for illicit drugs – particularly methamphetamines locally known as ‘yaba’, smuggled through the porous Myanmar-Bangladesh border. There has been a sharp increase in the supply of, and demand for, synthetic drugs across East and Southeast Asia and in Bangladesh. According to the latest trends and patterns of ATS, seizure data has indicated the movement of significant and increasing quantities of methamphetamine tablets being trafficked from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This is bound to affect communities in and around CXB. The westward flow of methamphetamine tablets from Myanmar to Bangladesh has increased continually in the past 10 years. The Bangladesh-Myanmar border can be marked with vulnerabilities and sources of national security concerns for the GoB. In conclusion, this particular border region has become a global flashpoint due to a large-scale influx of populations originating from Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, illegal trade in goods, narcotics, small arms and light weapons (SALW), and human trafficking and human smuggling from Myanmar to Bangladesh destined also for India, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Challenges relating to drugs and crime are a source of insecurity not only for Cox’s Bazar, but also the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Bangladesh as a whole. There is a need to examine the situation further in order to ensure timely and appropriate action to address the mentioned criminal impacts. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as guardian of bedrock UN conventions against crime and corruption, and as a lead provider of assistance to implement the drug Conventions and the global counter-terrorism instruments, as well as UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice, helps countries address acute threats to peace and security and achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. UNODC has been delivering technical assistance in the South Asia region for over two decades, covering six countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Such assistance has been delivered in Bangladesh, through its Programme Office in Dhaka. As the UN’s key agency on drug control and crime prevention, UNODC is well positioned to undertake this project, in close collaboration with UNHCR, the GoB, civil society and concerned UN Agencies.
UNODC is currently implementing a project in Bangladesh with the aim to build knowledge, capacities and resilience to counter the threats of drugs and crime in Cox’s Bazar. Through this project, UNODC aims to address the drugs and crime challenges in Southeast division of Bangladesh, bordering Myanmar, specifically Cox’s Bazar. The project aims to strengthen existing efforts of government, NGOs and UN agencies in Cox’s Bazar by generating evidence on drugs and crime, and safety challenges, building capacities of families, caregivers, government and criminal justice interlocutors to respond to such challenges and create awareness among affected populations.
The project shall address the overarching strategic objective of “Building capacities and resilience to counter the threats of drugs and crime in Cox’s Bazar” through the delivery of two pillars under UNODC mandates:
Pillar I: Research and analytical work to generate evidence on the drugs and crime situation, increase knowledge and understanding of drugs and crime issues and expand the evidence base for policy and operational decisions;
Pillar II: Family skills-based programmes to strengthen capacities of families and caregivers to prevent negative social outcomes in children.
The project will adopt an integrated programmatic approach by drawing national, regional and global UNODC expertise to deliver activities in Bangladesh. Furthermore, the project would contribute to the implementation of the UNODC Regional Programme for South Asia (2018-2021), especially subprogrammes 1 (Transnational organised crime), 2 (Drugs) and 5 (Crime prevention and criminal justice).