Human Rights Forum, Bangladesh (HRFB) had a meeting with diplomats based in Dhaka, Bangladesh on the ongoing Rohingya Crisis on 26 September 2017 at Swiss Development Agency. Around 20 representatives of different foreign mission and international agencies participated the meeting. The objectives of the meeting were –
- To share forum’s experiences from the ground with the diplomatic communities based in Bangladesh
- To draw attention of the diplomats to the ground level inhuman sufferings of the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh as well as the Rohingya community in Myanmar
- To place forum’s position with specific recommendations on the issue
HRFB appreciated the role played by diplomats from the very beginning of the crisis and expects by hearing us the community will further make visible to the international level the sufferings of refugees as well as inadequate capacity of national government alone to redress the humongous crisis highlighting the real scenario of the crisis. HRFB also expected that the diplomats will consider the recommendations placed by the Forum and work to ensure adequate humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya Refugees, create pressure on the Myanmar Government to stop violence against Rohingya Community and overall to create an enabling environment where Rohingya Refugees feel safe and secure to return their country.
The Rohingya, from the state of Rakhine of Myanmar which shares the border with Bangladesh, have long been subjected to continuous persecution and extreme violence. The recent massacre has been described as a “text book example of ethnic cleansing” by the UN and as ‘genocide’ by the Rome-based Permanent People’s Court. The ruthless and systematic killings and torture of unarmed innocent civilians in the name of “clearance operation” were so designed and executed by the Myanmar military that they were forced to flee for life and shelter to the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh in tens of thousands, overwhelming majority of the women and children. Although the Myanmar authority has been denying these, impeccably credible evidences available from absolutely independent sources show that the atrocities bear the hall-mark of deliberate and pre-planned crime against humanity. The recent crack-down has been absolutely disproportionate response to the alleged attack on police stations by the militant forces as the army and militias have been using deadly weapons, firing from the helicopters and using land mines in the bordering areas and all other violent means including arsons to commit murder, rape and burning down Rohingya homes. They spare no men, women, the elderly and children from their brutal wraths. The recent vicious crackdown by the security force and local Buddhist people, have contributed to a new influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh since 25 August and over 420,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed over to Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are recognized as the most oppressed-stateless people of the world. The 1982 Citizenship Law, which excluded Rohingya from the list of national races, and stripped them of their citizenship, exacerbated discrimination. The Myanmar government refers to Rohingya as ‘Bengali’, indicating that they are illegal immigrants. This population is subjected to restrictions on their freedom of movement, limiting their access to livelihoods, healthcare, food, education and other basic services. Rohingya are allowed to have a maximum of two children, but birth certificates are not issued to Rohingya children (HRW, 2016). Rohingya are restricted in their movement, with limited ability to leave their living areas. The recent Rohingya influx in Bangladesh was the culmination of brutal attack by the security forces.
This is not the first time Bangladesh has seen a massive wave of refugee arrivals from Myanmar. Being a neighbouring country, and given the porous border, Bangladesh remains as the first choice for the Rohingya people. The first large influx to Bangladesh came in 1978, and then in the early 1990s, when a quarter of a million fled from Myanmar. They have come more frequently in recent years—but the flow of the last few weeks has been unceasing, and possibly one of the largest influx in the short period of three weeks, which has since continued unabated.
After initial hesitation, the Government made a clear commitment to provide all possible humanitarian assistance to these distressed Rohingya people, while for absolutely valid reasons the Government is also determined that they must be sent back to their homes and land in Myanmar. Bangladesh has already been overwhelmed by the Rohingya refugees and new influx put tremendous pressure on local resources and capacity in terms of providing access to water, food, sanitation, health, shelter and housing. The government has been providing food, medical facilities and accommodation of refugees with the support of various local and foreign agencies prior to the current influx, and is trying to distribute such services among new refugees since August. However given the current mass Rohingya exodus in Bangladesh, such effort has a very limited impact to improve the condition of Rohingya people in Bangladesh with every possibility of them being deprived of basic human rights.
Dreadful Situation: Inhuman Sufferings
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), the Secretariat of the HRFB, was working through Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) from August 25th and deployed staff for fact findings. During September 15-17, 2017 they visited the Kutupalang, Balukhali, Thangkhali (refugee camps) and Tomdru (no man’s land) and shelter of Rohingya refugees. Other members of HRFB like Manusher Jonno Foundation also visited while other have undertaken initiatives consistent with their mandate and scope of work. According to preliminary observations, in addition to the camps already set up, a large number of refugees have taken shelter wherever they could outside the refugee camps due to scarcity of space. Mainly of these refugees are women, children and elderly persons who are living a miserable life under the open sky. The vulnerabilities of the Rohingya refugees are multi-dimensional. Critical areas are as follows:
- Although government along with other agencies and individuals are providing food, due to the huge number it remains inadequate. As the refugees have limited access to food, they suffer from malnutrition. Particularly women and children and women in pregnancy and postpartum are the most vulnerable suffering malnutrition. It is reported that sixty percent of all refugees are children. The inadequate baby food, especially milk. The powdered milk provided by few are also of not much use due to the shortage of clean water and the necessary feeding utensils. Many children who lost parents and/or are abandoned and missing need immediate protection, shelter, care, food, health and psychosocial counseling.
- Rohingyas are taking shelter under the makeshift tents comprised of bamboo and plastic sheet which remain ineffective in rains and will remain so as the winter approaches. Small hills and hilly areas are being used to build makeshift tents which are already causing high risk of landslides and various forms of environmental degradation.
- Fact finding teams also observed that already many Rohingyas have fallen sick, and a part of the refugee children are affected to polio, measles, diarrhea, pneumonia and other fatal diseases. Serious concerns are being raised that these diseases may spread among local residents in adjoining areas in the district. Moreover, the overall health care facility for the refugees is far from adequate. Only one small health care centers were found to be working to distribute Paracetamol and Filmet tablets and oral saline. Psychosocial counseling initiatives are nearly absent especially for the tortured women and children. Most of the refugee women are pregnant who are deprived of proper diet and health care. A number of women have given birth on their way of coming to Bangladesh, who are living under open sky with infants and facing different post-pregnancy difficulties. It was estimated that among the new arrivals over 18,000 Rohingya women are pregnant (bdnews24.com, 2017). They will face precarious health hazards in the coming days. According to UNICEF, more than 200,000 children in Cox’s Bazar’s Rohingya camps are at great risk.
- Rohingyas have little access to water and sanitation facilities. ASK has seen only very few water tanks to supply water for this huge population. It is feared that soon several water borne diseases may breakout. Children are at higher risk.
- There is hardly any coordination to distribute food and other services. Individuals, groups, agencies etc. throwing away relief goods in roads that are causing injuries, huge traffic congestions and conflict among the Rohingyas. A section of the local people and previously settled Rohingyas are alleged collecting more reliefs at the expense of the new refugees. Uncooridnated access of large number people and vehicles are making relief operation chaotic and ineffective.
- Women and children are greatly vulnerable to trafficking. Middlemen and touts are allegedly active to taking advantage of the situation.
- Excessive price of food, rice and other daily necessities and shrinking job market for local people can be catalysts of conflict between local people and refugees if preventive measures are not taken immediately.
- A sizable number of refugees have been reportedly spread out throughout the country beyond Ukhiya-Teknaf. As they cannot be identified separately from their appearance so it’s becoming difficult for the duty officers of Law Enforcement Agencies to identify them. Some are helped by previously entered Rohingyas and some made connections through relatives living in Middle Eastern countries. This have two consequences – the repatriation of these people in their own country would be difficult as well as it may lead to negative impact on socio-economic, health and psychological condition of the local community especially in Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban.
- To solve this complexities biometric registration of Rohingya refugees have been started, which is time worthy and important. The registration process is extremely slow but there is little potential to expand the centers. Most importantly, it is not known whether Myanmar Government will accept the registration card in time of repariation. According to the duty officers of BGB, by 16 September the data collection of only 3000 Rohingya refugees for bio-metric registration were done. The absence of involvement of UNHCR in bio-metric data collection process of Rohingya’s may create further complexities for them while returning to their own country. On the other hand, children constitute a remarkable number amongst Rohingya refugees but there has not been any initiative to bring them under registration process till September 17. Most of these children are detached from their families who do not know the whereabouts of their parents or they are already dead. These children fled to Bangladesh separately or with kith and kins. ASK apprehends, these children will face great insecurities and may be victim of trafficking if they are not registered individually.
- The women and children who are living outside the refugee camps are in most vulnerable position. On the other side, the part of Rohingya community living in “no man’s land” is also passing their days with deep concern. They are living a miserable life on open muddy field without enough food and any scope of meeting basic needs.
Although Bangladesh has been giving shelter and other possible support to the Rohingya refugees over the last few decades, Bangladesh has a very limited resource to deal with such huge influx of refugees. The country is already over populated and facing many socio-economic challenges. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is trying to improve the situation day by day.
In this context, HRFB takes this opportunity to place some recommendations for consideration of Development Partners to overcome the ongoing crisis.
At National Level
Initiate dialogue collectively as well as individually and provide maximum possible support to GOB to:
- Recognize Rohingyas as refugees and accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol without any further delay;
- Ensure adequate booths and human resources for doing bio-metric registration of Rohingya refugees and involve UNHCR in this process immediately;
- Include children’s photo and other vital information with their parents or guardian in the registration process;
- Establish adequate number of refugee camps and provide shelter to the fleeing Rohingyas in a systematic way;
- Ensure proper and adequate humanitarian assistance i.e. food, medical facilities and sanitation in refugee camps;
- Create an inter-governmental coordination team including representatives of UNHCR to manage and monitor the services for Rohingyas;
- Ensure security of the Rohingya women and girls both in the shelter and outside the shelter;
- Extend 24 hour drop in centres for children’s safety and mental health support, especially for the orphans and missing children; and
- Deploy large number of women and men volunteers (including local people) to support management authority.
At International Level
Collectively and individually create pressures including target sanctions on the Myanmar Government to:
- Enter into a multi-lateral dialogue on this issue to ensure immediate cessation of the ongoing violence against Rohingys;
- Take proper initiatives to protect and promote human rights of Rohingya community in Myanmar and implementing the recommendations of “Kofi Annan Commission”;
- Stop ongoing persecution against Rohingyas and take back all the Rohingya refugees to their own country with the due recognition of the status of Myanmar citizenship;
- Impose specific economic and military sanctions including freezing of trade, and investment relations as well as weapons supply and military training arrangements with Myanmar through UN and other multilateral and regional forums until such time as they don’t stop violence against Rohingya communities;
- Work with regional powers like India and China to exercise their multi-dimensional leverage in persuading the Myanmar Government to stop the persecution and ensure respect of human rights of their own citizens as well as repatriation of all those Rohingyas who have been forced to take shelter in Bangladesh;
- Take initiatives to reunite the displaced family members who have been detained and held captive in military, non-military, jail and detention centres through proper investigation by United Nations; and
- Create pressure to Government of Myanmar to provide access for an independent investigation by human rights activists and media personalities.