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Bangladesh 2011 Crime and Safety Report

South Central Asia > Bangladesh

Bangladesh 2011 Crime and Safety Report

 Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Urban crime can be organized or opportunistic, conducted by individuals or groups, and commonly encompasses fraud, theft (larceny, pick pocketing, snatch-and-grab), robbery (armed and unarmed), carjacking, rape, assault, and burglary (home and auto).  Incidences of crime and levels of violence are higher in low-income residential and congested commercial areas.  Domestic crimes against women and children (sexual assault and acid burning), organized trafficking in persons, illegal drugs, and firearms are major concerns. Organized criminal acts are far less common in foreign or expatriate communities.

Crimes of opportunity against Western targets were common and often took place on public transportation.  Many of these crimes were perpetrated with the use of knives, small firearms, or an incapacitating agent to subdue the victim.

 All metropolitan neighborhoods experience frequent burglaries.  There are numerous reports each year of home break-ins.  These incidents often involve locally-hired personal guards "on the inside."  The U.S. private sector should use reputable guard companies and alarm systems and employ common sense techniques such as locking doors for home security.  Homes left unprotected tend to be quickly discovered and targeted by burglars.

 Major hotels in Dhaka employ their own private security personnel.  While no violent crimes have been reported at any major hotel, theft by hotel employees is a routine problem. These incidents tend to occur when the hotel room is unoccupied.  Hotel management at these hotels have acted quickly to investigate or fire those responsible or under suspicion.  However, there is not always a resolution. These thefts can easily be averted by locking up all valuables.

 Americans traveling in Bangladesh should always maintain a low profile and recognize that they may be potential targets for crime or terrorism.  They should minimize vulnerability while driving vehicles anywhere in Bangladesh by following safe driving practices such as defensive driving, locking doors, and rolling up windows.

 The crime and safety situation in rural areas of Bangladesh mirrors that of the rest of the country.  Reports of rural crime or violence against Americans and other foreigners are rare.  In the past, there have been isolated reports of robberies on chartered intercity passenger buses as well as larcenies and pick pocketing on crowded trains.  According to the police, reported incidents of crime against persons and property in rural areas are far fewer than in cities. Americans traveling in rural areas of Bangladesh should:

  • Maintain a heightened state of awareness,
  • Recognize they may be potential targets for crime or terrorism,
  • Remain alert to their surroundings, and
  • Avoid high-risk areas, including large gatherings and political demonstrations.

Both urban and rural traffic accidents result in countless fatalities and injuries in Bangladesh every year. Pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, baby taxis, trucks, buses, and livestock congest traffic patterns in most urban centers. Traffic accidents involving pedestrians and light weight vehicles (rickshaws and baby taxis) immediately draw crowds.

Crowds are unpredictable and have the potential to become violent.  Americans driving in Bangladesh should be alert to road conditions and their surroundings.  Know the locations of police stations and drive defensively at all times. Rural driving conditions on the roadways between urban centers can be treacherous.  Large passenger buses and trucks travel at high speeds on narrow, poorly maintained rural roadways shared by pedestrians, rickshaws, baby taxis, and livestock.  Police patrols are infrequent, and emergency medical services are very limited. Americans driving on rural roadways should be alert to road conditions and their surroundings, keep their fuel tanks full, and drive defensively at all times.  Many inland waterways lack bridges so travelers must use ferries. Ferries in Bangladesh are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and lack life-safety or water rescue equipment.

Political Violence

The 2010 calendar year witnessed several hartals (country-wide strikes) and protests resulting in widespread violence and destruction of property.  The Department of State continues to rate the threat of political violence as "high." 

 Historically, hartals, public demonstrations, and blockades characterize political confrontation in Bangladesh. Hartals normally result in the virtual shutdown of all motorized transportation and commerce. They always have the potential for violence and significant collateral damage (store fronts, vehicles, street vendors, and pedestrians). In Bangladesh, protesters use physical force, bats, rocks, guns, and small explosive devices during confrontations. Police respond using batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, live ammunition, water cannons, and other riot control equipment when confronting protesters. Political confrontations frequently result in injuries and occasional deaths. Americans should always maintain a low profile, avoid marches and demonstrations, and avoid all unnecessary motorized travel during hartal days.

 Demonstrations are especially common at universities and colleges and on Fridays following prayers at local mosques.  The United States is often the target of protests outside the Baitul Makarram National Mosque.  Police are good at containing the vast majority of these demonstrations to the immediate area surrounding the mosque.

Due to frequent demonstrations, the U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens proceed with caution in traveling to all universities and colleges in Dhaka at all times.  The U.S. Embassy also recommends that U.S. citizens avoid Road 86 in the Gulshan-2 area of Dhaka.  One of the major national political parties’ headquarters is located on this road.  Large unscheduled events occur frequently and usually spill out on to the road, making it impassable.  Baitul Mukarram Mosque (National Mosque),Muktangan (bordered by Baitul Mukarram Mosque to the east, the General Post Office or GPO to the south, the Secretariat to the West, and Topkhana Road to the North) , and Topkhana-Motijheel Road should be avoided on Fridays from noon to 6:00 pm.

U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents, including those involving foreign nationals.  Foreigners traveling in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are required to register with local authorities.  Additionally, the U.S. Embassy has in the past received reports of incidents of kidnapping, arms, and narcotics smuggling and clashes between local Bangladeshis and Rohingyan refugees in areas near Rohingyan refugee camps in the Teknaf, Kutupalong, Ukhia, and Ramu areas of the Cox’s Bazar district.  The U.S. Embassy also recommends against travel to these areas.  Individuals who choose to visit these districts are urged to exercise extreme caution.

American citizens in Bangladesh are urged to carefully consider the security risks when deciding whether to attend large public gatherings.  Bombings in public places have occurred from time to time.  In recent years, there have been grenade attacks at political rallies which have resulted in casualties.  These attacks and bombings reinforce continual Embassy warnings about the possibility of violence in public places where large crowds gather.

 Global and regional terrorist threats remain a cause for concern in Bangladesh.  Over the years, global terrorist activity has steadily increased against U.S. interests and citizens living and working abroad.  Enhanced U.S. government overseas security programs have made terrorist attacks on government facilities and senior government officials more difficult.  These programs have, by their effectiveness, forced terrorists to seek "softer targets."  Americans in Bangladesh should realize they are potential targets for terrorism and take practical measures to protect themselves and their families.  Awareness of the local threat, elimination of predictable travel and lifestyle routines, and security consciousness at home and at the office will reduce vulnerability.

 While there were no significant terrorist attacks in 2010, reports in the press about police raids and intelligence services’ operations against JMB hideouts, bomb making facilities, and gatherings serve as a clear reminder that the threat has not been eliminated.

 The United States declares the group Harakat ul Jihadi Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B) a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), highlighting U.S. concerns over terrorism in the region.  HUJI-B has been held responsible for attacks against local political figures, journalists, and diplomats and has been implicated in attacks in India.

Post-Specific Concerns

 Annual flooding in Bangladesh is a serious problem.  The drainage systems on many roads are inadequate and stagnant water is a regular feature during the monsoon season. The torrential monsoon rains have a significant impact on traveling in the country in terms of both air and road travel.

 In addition to seasonal monsoons, Bangladesh is subject to tropical cyclones. While early warning systems have become more effective, these storms continue to wreak devastation on the nation's infrastructure causing significant economic loss. Tropical Cyclone Sidr in November 2007 caused billions of dollars of damage to the country and more than 3,000 deaths. Bangladesh continues to struggle to fully recover from this disaster.

 Although Bangladesh lies on a fault line, it has not had a serious earthquake since 1950.  It is impossible to predict how the country would be affected by a seismic event in the future although infrastructure limitations would impact recovery.

 Kidnappings for ransom are not a major problem in Bangladesh. However, the consular section routinely handles reports of American citizens being held "hostage" by family members related to marriage disputes.

 Drug use is growing and crosses all social strata in Bangladesh. Heroin, marijuana, amphetamines, and injectable drugs are sold on the street. The sale and use of heroin and other narcotics in Dhaka plays an important role in Dhaka's overall crime profile. Addicts from low-income areas must steal or commit other crimes to fund their habit. Heroin can be purchased easily from local distribution houses/shacks. In addition, bicycle and motorized rickshaw drivers sell heroin openly on the street. Speed, tidgesic or buprenorphine (injectable drug), and pethidine (morphine) are also available for a price. Phensydil (codeine) is widely available and often a "drug" of choice in urban and rural areas. Marijuana is widely used by college students and is inexpensive. It is cultivated in the western part of the country and readily available from drug dealers.

Police Response

Local neighborhood police stations often lack adequate resources, including manpower, vehicles, record and case management equipment, IT technology, radio, telephones, and emergency response capabilities.  Despite these limitations, police are responsive to Embassy requests for assistance.

 Before police investigate a crime, victims must first file a General Diary at the local police station that has jurisdiction in the area where the crime was committed.  Most constable-level police personnel do not speak English. Americans who are victims of crime while visiting Bangladesh should report incidents to the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) consular representative.  Americans who are arrested or detained in Bangladesh should also contact the U.S. Embassy ACS consular representative for assistance.

 From any phone in Bangladesh, the numbers 999 can be dialed for immediate police assistance.

Medical Emergencies

Health problems are prevalent.  In particular, gastro-intestinal problems are common.  Visitors should exercise care in what they eat and drink as food diseases are common. In particular, should keep in mind the following:

  • All tap water should be presumed to be contaminated, even in hotels. 
  • Drink bottled/boiled water and eat only fruits and vegetables that have been cooked and peeled. 
  • Undercooked meat should be avoided.
  • Avoid eating uncooked dairy products and food sold on the streets.
  • Visitors who take medication on a regular basis should bring enough for the duration of their visit.  It is not always possible to find equivalents for American prescriptions on the local market. 
  • While there are several notable exceptions, local medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards.

Most large urban centers in Bangladesh have medical facilities (state-sponsored, NGO, and private) but they are substandard and ill-equipped in comparison to equivalent U.S. facilities.  Exceptions in Dhaka include Apollo, Square, and United Hospitals.  While still new, all indications are that minor needs can easily be treated at these facilities.

Western standard emergency services such as ambulance, fire response, paramedic rescue, and police emergency support do not exist.  Emergency medical response capabilities are limited, and where ambulances are available, they are undependable, usually in poor running condition, and lack rudimentary emergency medical equipment.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Criminal scams are common on various forms of public transportation.  In particular, passengers in rickshaws are often targeted by criminal elements for muggings.  Baby taxis and regular taxis are often partners with criminal groups. The driver takes the passenger down a predetermined street or intersection where others enter the vehicle and, with the use of a weapon, proceed to rob the passenger while the driver departs to an out-of-the-way alley.  The passenger has a caustic agent smeared in his eyes before being dumped disoriented in the road.  In general, travelers should:

  • Be aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Avoid predictable behavior, crowds and/or large public gatherings, marches, and demonstrations. 
  • Avoid discussing sensitive or personal matters over local telephone lines.
  • Avoid carrying large sums of money, wearing expensive jewelry or walking alone at night.
  • Valuables should be stored in hotel safety deposit boxes and should not be left unattended in hotel rooms.

Embassy Contacts

Embassy Operator:  880(2)885-5500.

Regional Security Office:  880(2)885-5500, ext. 2228.

Consular Affairs (ACS):  880(2)885-5500, ext. 2602.

Political/Economic Office:  880(2)885-5500, ext. 2151.

OSAC Country Council

The Dhaka OSAC Country Council is in the process of reforming.  Please contact the Regional Security Office at 880(2)885-5500, ext. 2228 for more information.