USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

World Refugee Survey 2009: Bangladesh

Introduction

Bangladesh hosted some 193,000 refugees, almost all of them Muslim residents of North Rakhine State of Myanmar - commonly known as the Rohingya.  Some 250,000 entered in 1991-92, fleeing statelessness and ethnic and religious persecution, only to be forced back-sometimes with the cooperation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-but many returned.  The Government confines some 28,100 of them in Nayapara and Kutupalong camps in the southern Cox's Bazar District.  UNHCR has registered these and the Government at least recognizes their right to temporary asylum.  The Government estimates that, in addition, there are between 100,000 to 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps without legal status in the Cox's Bazar district and the Bandarban sub-district of Chittagong.  The Government relocated about 9,000 of these from the Teknaf squatter camp on the edge of the Naf River to Leda and another 15,000 set up makeshift housing around Kutupalong camp.
There were 266 other refugees UNHCR recognized under its mandate including non-Rohingya Myanmarese and persons of other nationalities.  UNHCR adjudicated the cases of 154 persons of various nationalities and granted refugee status to 84 during the year. 

Summary of 2008 Events 
Although most would-be entrants got through, the Government increasingly turned Rohingya back at the border, including many likely refugees, as a response to the Myanmar's refusal to accept Rohingya in formal deportations.  Documented cases of such "push backs" included 242 individuals and 15 families compared to 110 the year before, including several cases where Myamar's border police promptly arrested the deportees.

Although authorities generally did not arrest registered refugees arbitrarily during the year, there remained at least 88 such Rohingya in local prisons in the Cox's Bazaar area at year's end of whom, authorities had sentenced four.  A total of 385 registered refugees remained on bail along with many unregistered Rohingyas and those in other jails that did not report their detention.  There were some 300 "released prisoners" in indefinite detention after serving their sentences because Myanmar would not allow their re-entry.

With the support of UNICEF, the Government began to permit formal primary education in the camps.  The Government also permitted UNHCR to replace shelters and latrines and allowed more NGOs to train refugees on skills, education, and health in the camps.

In January, the authorities arrested five Myanmarese and two Bangladeshis in Cox's Bazar and seized a trawler with 41 Myanmarese and Bangladeshis bound for Malaysia.  Another 34 escaped.  A ship hit and stranded another boat with 50 aboard that had set off for Malaysia from Zalia Palong but there were no arrests.  Around the end of the month, authorities pushed 19 Rohingyas back to Myanmar where local authorities arrested and detained them.

At the end of January, the Government began voter registration in the villages of Cox's Bazar with special emphasis on purging Rohingya that parties had put on previous lists.  Many refugees, fearing the Government would also evict them from the villages, began building shanties around Kutupalong refugee camp, although the authorities told them to return to the villages.

In March, the border security force known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) forced a family of five Rohingya asylum seekers back over the border near Sapuri Island without detaining them.  Later, in Ukhia sub-district, the BDR arrested and detained for illegal entry 13 Rohingya who claimed they were UNHCR-recognized refugees but lacked documentation.  Teknaf police then arrested and detained seven Myamarese seeking to go to Malaysia and then, a few days later, seven more along with four Bangladeshis.  Later, the BDR arrested some 70 Myanmarese Muslim asylum seekers for illegal entry on the border in Teknaf.
Also in March, Bangladesh applied to UNHCR for status as a donor nation, pledging perhaps $2,000, to participate in policies pertaining to the encamped Rohingya.

In April, police and refugees clashed in Nayapara camp, injuring eight refugees and two police officers.  Five refugee women had blocked the vehicle of Doctors Without Borders to protest the NGO's withdrawing and transferring their project to another NGO.  A male refugee broke the vehicle's mirror and police arrested and beat him.  The Ministry of Health clinic admitted him but he fled.  Police also beat the women and other refugees which led to a riot in which refugees threw bricks at the police.  Two refugees received injuries and one was in critical condition.  Police made eight arrests during the incident and five more as refugees attempted to visit their relatives in jail.  The next day, police arrested dozens more, releasing many of them shortly thereafter.

In the middle June, BDR in Whaikong pushed some 15 families back over the border and Myanmar's border police arrested them.  Also in June, two refugee children died and 150 came down with pneumonia, diarrhea, and skin diseases in the makeshift camp along the Naf River, shortly after heavy rains and high tides flooded the camp.

In July, Islamic Relief, pursuant to an agreement between the Government and UNHCR, relocated about 9,000 unregistered Rohingya who had been living in the Teknaf camp to a site in Leda, about 9 km away.  According to the European Commission, employment opportunities, markets, household support were "almost nonexistent … leading to an acute food crisis/starvation and malnutrition" compounded by a cholera/acute diarrhea outbreak and a near doubling of the local price of rice.  Refugees who worked as day laborers or fishermen at the Teknaf river port had to pay daily transportation costs amounting to about a fifth of their earnings.  The Forestry Department allocated the land for the settlement but had evicted several Bangladeshis living there illegally, causing resentment.  Water was also scarce at the new site, leading refugees to drill wells on neighbors' properties exacerbating relations.

In October, some fighting broke out between Leda residents and the local community after an NGO delivered food to the refugees but not to the locals.

In November, amid a maritime dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar, the latter reinforced its troops.  BDR arrested three Myamarese on suspicion if illegal entry at Kong Don-Taungbro and then sent them to Bandarban prison in Chittagong Hill Tract.  BDR arrested another nine Myamarese on Sapori Island intending to have themselves smuggled to Malaysia from Teknaf.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection
Authorities generally do not forcibly return registered refugees.  As the Government of Myanmar refuses to accept the deportation of Rohingyas from detention in Bangladesh, the BDR increasingly pushes non-registered would-be Rohingya entrants back over the border to Myanmar rather than arresting, processing, or formally deporting them.

Bangladesh is not party to either the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol and has no refugee law.  The 1972 Constitution obliges the Government to "support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against…racialism."  It also provides that "no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law."  There are no reports, however, of courts applying these provisions to refugees.  The Birth Registration Act of 2004 specifically provides for the registration of refugee children.  The 1920 Passport Act, the 1946 Foreigner's Act, and the 1952 Control of Entry Act apply to all foreigners without exception for refugees.
The Government denies asylum to newly arriving Rohingyas, categorizing them as illegal economic migrants.

Detention/Access to Courts
On occasion, local police use the Foreigners Act to arrest and imprison unregistered Rohingya they may suspect of other offenses but have no proof.  Authorities also arrest a few refugees for attempting to leave Bangladesh for Malaysia.  Authorities detain indefinitely hundreds of Rohingya known as "released prisoners" after they complete their sentences if Myanmar, refusing to acknowledge their citizenship, will not allow their re-entry.

With prior notice, authorities allowed UNHCR to visit detained refugees and asylum seekers.  The Government allows them to have lawyers represent them.

According to UNHCR's 2007 analysis of protection gaps, camp officials used arbitrary arrest and detention "to force compliance in regard to monetary disputes, as well as to remove fathers and husbands from homes in order to more easily sexually abuse and exploit their female family members, including through forced marriages."

The 1946 Foreigner's Act empowers the Government to arrest, detain, and confine foreigners, without exception for refugees, for security reasons.  It does not allow detention longer than six months, however, unless an Advisory Board holds a hearing with the detainee and approves.

The Office of the Refugee and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), under the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (MFDM), oversees camp administration.  UNHCR, RRRC, and camp personnel govern arbitration mechanisms in the camps.

Refugees can complain to the police or directly to the court in Cox's Bazar, but the police only register complaints with if the camp leadership refers them or otherwise agrees.  The 1972 Constitution guarantees the protection of the law to citizens and "every other person for the time being within Bangladesh" and allows petitions for protection of fundamental rights to the High Court Division from "any person aggrieved," but local authorities do not apply the former and there is no record of anyone effectively using either for the benefit of refugees.

The Government permits UNHCR to issue photo identity cards without expiration dates to all registered refugees, replacing the family books it once issued to camp-based refugees and the one-year cards it once issued refugees in urban areas.

Freedom of Movement and Residence 
Authorities do not formally allow the 28,100 Rohingya refugees to leave the two official camps without permission, which it's "camp-in-charges" granted only for medical and hospital referrals, court appointments, and family visits between camps but often informally tolerated it.  Buddhist monasteries in Dhaka require valid travel documents which few monks seeking asylum from Myanmar have as they fear Government retaliation for housing them.

The 1972 Constitution reserves its protection of freedom of movement to citizens, while the 1946 Foreigner's Act, without exceptions for refugees, permits the Government to require foreigners to reside in particular places and to impose "any restrictions" on their movements.  Bangladesh has no law, regulation, or formal policy regulating the confinement of refugees and asylum seekers; authorities simply do it arbitrarily.

Although authorities sporadically arrests Rohingya in transit to other destinations, in most cases they do not effectively prevent it.  The Government issues no international travel documents to refugees but the International Committee of the Red Cross issues documents to refugees accepted for resettlement.

Right to Earn a Livelihood 
Refugees and asylum seekers do not have legal rights to work, to practice professions, to engage in business, or to own property but authorities do not punish people for engaging in them.
The Government informally tolerates some refugee work in the camps including the construction of the camp shelters themselves and in the operation of some 90 shops in Kutupalong camp.  With the knowledge of the Government, NGO training initiatives in tailoring and other skills allow small, home-based income generation.  Refugees also have no legal rights at the workplace, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in the informal job sector.  Authorities generally tolerate refugees' informal, low-skilled day labor in agriculture or fishing.

Refugees can neither legally run businesses nor own property; and the 1972 Constitution reserves its property rights for citizens.  Banks require identity cards to open accounts, excluding unregistered refugees.
The 1972 Constitution guarantees to citizens only, the right to work, to practice professions, and to conduct business.

Public Relief and Education 
UNHCR gives 120 Taka (about $1.74) per day subsistence allowance for six months, and grants for basic medical services and education, on a needs basis to some of those refugees it recognizes in Dhaka.  According to the Government, the production value of the land on which it confines the refugees, 75,000 Taka or $1,016, is a form of aid.

Reversing an earlier policy insisting that instruction take place in Burmese-despite the facts that the Rohingyas' native tongue is closer to that of Chittagong and many understand Bangla-and follow the Burmese curriculum, instruction is now in Bangla and follows the Bangladeshi curriculum.  The Government does not allow secondary education.

In its 2005 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for the International Monetary Fund and other donors, the Government recognizes refugees as disadvantaged, stigmatized, marginalized, extremely poor groups subject to social injustice with few opportunities.  It declares that it "needs to recognize their existence and also take actions in uplifting the constraints of their lives so that they can also live a poverty free life" and that to do so, the Government needs to seek international help.

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