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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Bangladesh 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Bangladesh. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Bangladesh country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password. 

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Bangladesh at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism. Reconsider travel to Dhaka due to crime and terrorism; and to Southeast Bangladesh, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Dhaka remains the world’s most densely populated city, with nearly 20 million inhabitants. Despite being the largest metropolitan city in Bangladesh, crime rates impacting foreigners are surprisingly low. However, travelers should be aware of petty crimes such as scams and pickpocketing in crowded areas.

Mugging, burglary, financial scams, and petty drug crimes comprise the majority of criminal activity in Dhaka and other major cities in Bangladesh. There is no specific indication that foreigners are specific target because of their nationality. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Credit card and ATM use is relatively safe, with few reports of fraud, especially when using these instruments of commerce in locations catering to an international clientele. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, and residential break-ins frequently occur, but do not exceed average levels of major cities in the U.S. Violent crime tends to be situational with the perpetrators having some level of familiarity with the victims as opposed to random violent criminal acts. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving is on the left side of the street. Road conditions and quality varies throughout Bangladesh. Most roads are generally passable; however, varying conditions in roadway infrastructure, lack of roadside lighting and traffic signals; and aggressive driving behaviors lend to hazardous driving conditions when compared to U.S. cities. Roads often accommodate, in equal measure, pedestrians, farm animals, rickshaws, bicyclists, motorcycles, scooters, delivery carts, overloaded buses, and trucks.  

Local motorists sometimes travel against the flow of traffic and without functioning brake lights, turn signals, or headlights. Likewise, pedestrians sometimes step in front of moving vehicles, and commuters exit and enter from moving buses without warning. Drivers use car horns or flash their high-beam headlights to announce their presence in all areas of Bangladesh day or night. Vehicular collisions often result in fatalities, as most occupants do not use seat belts (or helmets when on motorcycles), and drivers tend to travel at excessive speed. Vehicle accident scenes can become confrontational and violent as bystanders or related parties take sides as to who is at fault. It is common practice for individuals involved in a vehicular accident to expect a monetary payment on behalf of the injured party, regardless of fault.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety AbroadDriving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid public transportation (e.g. buses, taxis, rickshaws, motorized rickshaws (known as "CNGs")), which can be hazardous. Safety standards do not exist. Lone passengers riding in taxis, CNGs, and rickshaws can easily become targets of crime. Several app-based ride-sharing services operate in Bangladesh, but the U.S. Embassy does not endorse using these applications, as the Government of Bangladesh has not established an official protocol or safety standard for ride sharing services. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

The railway system is overcrowded, and allows passengers to ride on the rooftops of the train. Some political activists target rail lines during civil unrest by hurling explosives and removing rail ties from the tracks, making trips unusually dangerous and causing frequent cancellations. Derailments have resulted in severe injuries to passengers. Even in peaceful times, foreigners are often the center of attention at train stations because of the relatively atypical presence of foreign travelers on rail in the country.

Water ferries and boats also experience overcrowding, and do not have enough life vests or safety equipment for passengers. Several ferries have sunk due to weather, overcrowding, and/or unsafe conditions.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Arriving and departing Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC) in Dhaka can be chaotic and intimidating for the less-seasoned traveler. Long lines at immigration and delays in getting luggage are common. Decline help from anyone who offers assistance unless you have pre-coordinated that assistance via your employer or a travel expeditor. Pre-arrange transportation from the airport to your hotel or follow-on destination. Rental vehicles and drivers are available at the airport, but are unreliable and present an opportunity for crime. 

Current aviation safety and security protocols for Bangladeshi airports are not equivalent to those of the United States. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) current determination is that the Government of Bangladesh’s Civil Aviation Authority does not provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization. U.S. Department of Defense personnel may not use Biman Airlines.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. government assesses that there remains a credible terrorist threat against foreigners in Bangladesh. Although there are have been no successful attacks against Western interests since the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant attack of 2016, terrorism events can happen with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, airports, university school campuses, restaurants, places of worship, and other public areas. Terrorist elements retain a presence in Bangladesh. Remain vigilant and be alert to local security developments. 

Only adult family members, 18 years of age and older, may accompany U.S. government employees assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh.  U.S. government personnel in Bangladesh live, work, and travel under strict security guidelines and may not:

  • Travel on foot (e.g. walking, running) and biking outside of designated areas and times;
  • Travel via non-registered rickshaws outside designated areas and times;
  • Travel via motorcycle or CNG on public thoroughfares and sidewalks;
  • Visit public establishments outside of designated areas and times; and
  • Attend large gatherings, including events at international hotels, without prior permission.

In previous years, ISIS viewed Bangladesh as a strategic operation base for establishing a caliphate and facilitating attacks inside India, a symbolic and important target. Throughout 2015 and 2016, ISIS claimed several fatal attacks on religious minorities, including Buddhist, Christians, Shias, and Hindus. The Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant attack in 2016 was the most sophisticated attack to date, resulting in the death of one dual U.S.-Bangladeshi national and 23 others. 

Since 2017, ISIS claimed responsibility for several bombings in multiple locations in Bangladesh, including two suicide attacks that targeted security forces near DAC Airport. In 2019, no fatalities occurred after ISIS-claimed responsibility for six Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks targeting Bangladesh Police. In January 2020, police arrested two suspected militants involved in attacking police with these IEDs.

From 2017 to 2019, local media and law enforcement agencies reported the Bangladesh government’s success in conducting counter-terrorism raids. Several of these raids resulted in explosions, gunfire, injury, apprehension, or deaths of suspected militants residing within the targeted areas. 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Anti-Western terrorist groups are active in Bangladesh, including: Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B), Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, Ansar al-Islam, and Ansarullah Bangla Team. There has been no specific targeting of U.S. citizens or interests. Although the risk has greatly diminished from the levels experienced between 2015-2017, the risk level remains high and travelers should take proper security precautions.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Demonstrations can lead to violent clashes resulting in injuries, deaths, property damage, blocked highways, and to a lesser extent sabotaged trains/railways. Protestors commonly throw rocks, debris, and small homemade explosive devices into crowds. Security forces typically deploy tear gas and use firearms with rubber bullets to disperse crowds and control demonstrators.

In August 2019, hundreds of students protested when members of the ruling party’s youth wing killed a student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The student had used Facebook to criticize the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s agreement on water sharing with the Indian government. In September 2019, approximately 20,000 people in the city of Bhola (70 miles from Dhaka) protested a Facebook post they perceived to insult Islam. Clashes between protestors and security forces caused four deaths and about 50 injuries.

Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country with constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to its citizens, stressing its principle of “Friendship towards all, malice towards none.” However, some discrimination has occurred, most notably against non-Muslims and minorities. Religious or ethnic violence has targeted minority groups, including Hindus and Buddhists. In 2019, several violent attacks against religious minority communities occurred, possibly motivated by transnational violent extremism, economic/political reasons and/or disparities, and/or property disputes.

Approximately 725,000 ethnic-Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have fled to Cox’s Bazar District, located in southeastern Bangladesh. Many representatives from the international community, including numerous humanitarian aid organizations, are in Cox’s Bazar to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya. With the latest wave of Rohingya into Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar has reportedly become the country’s third-most densely populated area. There may now be 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in the country. The Government of Bangladesh is currently negotiating with the Government of Myanmar on a process to return the Rohingya to Myanmar. The influx of Rohingya has severely degraded public infrastructure capacity and resources in and around Cox’s Bazar, which has contributed to increased tensions between the Rohingya and the Cox’s Bazar host community.

Post Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Bangladesh -- and particularly Dhaka, with its mega population and growth rate -- is one of the most seismically vulnerable regions in the world. Although earthquakes are more likely to occur in the north of the country, destruction from an earthquake would be most acute in urban areas. Stanford University, the leading school on seismic risk management, has identified Dhaka as one of the 20 most earthquake-vulnerable cities in the world.  The concentration of seismic risks in urban centers of Bangladesh is a major source of concern; continued and unplanned urbanization compounds the threat. The overwhelming majority of structures in Bangladesh would not withstand a moderate earthquake. The current urban development regulatory and enforcement structure does not clearly define authority and accountability, making effective, resilient development planning difficult. Post-earthquake disaster relief capabilities are extremely limited.

Widespread flooding is also a constant threat, with substantial flood events and damage occurring in recent years. Bangladesh is also at severe risk from tornadoes. The government is proactive in addressing these issues, but has work to do in terms of creating the proper infrastructure and providing sufficient material resources to deal with large-scale catastrophe.

According to Air Quality Index, Bangladesh has fourth-worst Environmental Performance Index for Air Quality in the world. According to the most recent World Health Organization data, Dhaka’s average annual air quality score corresponds to “Unhealthy to Hazardous” rating on the Air Quality Index.

Economic Concerns

Land disputes are common in Bangladesh, and are extremely difficult to resolve through legal channels. The U.S. Embassy cannot protect personal property, and cannot take sides in a legal dispute. Prior to purchasing property in Bangladesh, be aware of the risks, including those of not being physically present to oversee your property. Involvement in a property dispute may pose dangers ranging from lengthy court disputes to physical threat, injury, or murder. Anyone involved in a court dispute runs the risk of having cases filed against them, and may be arrested and jailed.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Bangladesh has a history of fatal building fires, especially in factories and warehouses where safety and structural standards have long been inadequate. In 2019, Dhaka experienced two devastating fire incidents: one in Old Dhaka, and the other one in Banani. 

The February 2019 Old Dhaka incident resulted in 67 deaths, and 44 reported injuries. The fire started in a warehouse used to store chemicals and plastics, then spread into five neighboring buildings; it took nearly twelve hours to contain. 

The second incident occurred in Banani, which is part of the Diplomatic Enclave, about 1.5 km from the U.S. Embassy. The fire started in a commercial high-rise building. At least 25 people died, and another 75 people received injuries. After the incident, officials released findings reporting that a lack of adequate fire safety systems in the building, along with a locked emergency fire exit, caused the deaths.

Personal Identity Concerns

Although homosexuality is illegal, arrests for offenses are rare and are usually only made after a third party files a complaint. Open displays of homosexuality are generally met with public disapproval. Even with opposite sex couples, public displays of affection, other than holding hands, are frowned upon. In 2016, AQIS specifically targeted and killed a prominent member of the Bangladesh LGBTI community in his apartment because of his human rights activism and sexual orientation. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

A marriage must be entered into with the full and free consent of both individuals. The U.S. Embassy can provide help and advice for any U.S. citizen forced into a marriage against their will. Refer to the State Department’s information on forced marriage. All travelers to Bangladesh, including Bangladeshi citizens, should maintain possession of their passports and return plane tickets to ensure independence to travel. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Public transportation, sidewalks, many buildings, and most public areas are not wheelchair accessible. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

The illegal use, possession, or distribution of narcotics can result in severe punishment. Yaba is an illegal methamphetamine available on the street. Avoid purchase of this or any other illegal drugs.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings are typically not random in nature, but are related to either a domestic or familial dispute. Reconsider travel to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents. The government continues to impose restrictions on all foreigners who travel to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts, collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Travel to CHT has been fraught with kidnappings and other security incidents. Political demonstrations, blockades, and violent clashes have occurred and are likely to continue. Official and unofficial U.S. government travel to CHT requires prior approvals from Government of Bangladesh, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and registration with the respective District Administrative Commissioner’s Office (DACO). Travelers must first register and obtain DACO approval prior to visiting CHT. All travelers should exercise caution when traveling to CHT. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

Other Areas of Concern

Bangladesh regulates and restricts all forms of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), colloquially known as “drones,” and subjects them to import and flight restrictions. Failure to obtain import and/or flight permission can result in detention and/or arrest, as well as confiscation of the RPAS. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

For travel to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, MOFA requires notification of official/non-official travel.

Police Response

The emergency line in Bangladesh is 999. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) is the capital’s primary law enforcement entity, enforcing national and local statutes.

Local police and medical emergency numbers:

Gulshan: +88 02 989-5826

Banani: +88 01 769-691-801 

Vatara: +88 01 769-691-796 

Badda: +88 02 988-2652

The Bangladesh Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs also supports “One-stop Crisis Centers (OCC)” located at eight division and large city hospitals, and 60 crisis “cells” located at smaller clinics. Services provided at OCC facilities include medical treatment, counseling, and legal advice, and are free of charge.

Victims of crime can also seek information and assistance from the “National Helpline Centre for Violence against Women and Children,” which offers a toll-free, 24-hour/day, 7-day/week number: 10921. Call center staff provide information on local victim’s assistance resources, including hospitals, shelters, and police contacts, in both Bangla and English. Information provided is confidential. The website for the National Helpline is: www.mspvaw.org.bd. The email address is: nhcvawc@yahoo.com. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

For medical emergencies, dial:999. Though quality of care is below U.S. standards, most common illnesses are treatable locally. U.S. citizens often travel outside Bangladesh for routine surgical procedures and complicated medical treatment. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website

Bangladesh has no prohibitions on specific medications. There have been reports of the sale of counterfeit medications, but medications from major pharmacies and hospitals are generally reliable. Review OSAC’s report,  Traveling with Medication

Travelers should have some form of medical/evacuation insurance in place prior to arrival or have a plan in case of medical emergency. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

In the past few years, there have been a large number of reports of both Chikungunya and Japanese Encephalitis cases; consider the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine for prevention. Dengue is endemic in Bangladesh; the 2019 summer season brought an increase of reported cases compared to the last five years. Should you develop symptoms of fever, headache, rash, or muscle/joint aching, seek medical attention. Malaria exists in 13 districts in the northeast and southeast Bangladesh. If planning travel to these areas, consult with your physician regarding taking medication for malaria prophylaxis.

Bangladesh is an area with risk of Zika infection, though it is uncommon. Pregnant women, travelers with a pregnant partner, and women considering becoming pregnant should speak to their healthcare provider about possible Zika risk before travel. Use mosquito repellant and avoid contact with stray dogs and cats. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bangladesh.

Water supplies in Bangladesh are non-potable. Bottled drinking water is generally safe for consumption. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water? Foodborne illnesses are common. Wash, soak in sanitizing solution, peel, and thoroughly cook all food to minimize chemical, bacterial, and parasitic contamination.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy WayShaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information:

Dhaka has an active OSAC Country Council. More more information or to join, contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia Team or email DS_RSO_DHAKA@state.gov.  

U.S. Embassy Contact Information:

Madani Avenue, Baridhara, Dhaka 1212

Working Hours: Sunday – Thursday 0800 – 1630

Telephone: +88 02 5566-2000

Website: http://bd.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources: 

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