Wednesday, 22 January 2020

AFK Jilani

Bangladesh has not ratified the UN Refugee Convention nor has it enacted and national legislation to protect refugees. The UNHCR has been allowed to supervise the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, however, access to refugee camp has been denied since 1994. Currently, the Bangladesh government is pursuing to repatriate remaining over 20,000 refugees against their will. UNHCR has not been allowed to conduct refugee status with Rohingya asylum seekers in Bangladesh either.

Besides those in camps, these are hundreds of Burmese nationals, mainly Rohingyas, having languishing in different jails of Bangladesh. As their life and honors were at stake, the Rohingya took shelter in various countries including Bangladesh. It is irony of fate that Rohingyas are neither granted citizens in their own country nor are free to move. What will be the fate of this ethnic minority?  A solution for them is a must. It will be a sigh of relief for Bangladesh.

Sages around the world generally agree that there is no problem under the sun which has no solution. Specially, relating to human life and peace and happiness, have to be mercifully sized up with good intention to solve them. Humanitarian problems need be united from pre-conceived have their own house in Chittagong.

There are many Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar, Bandarbon, Ukhiya to Shapuri Dip and St-Martin mostly working as labourers in farms, salt industries and fishing boats receiving less than locals. The local goons forcibly employed them in evil works at the cost their weakness as being aliens. 

At Teknaf the Rohingyas are herded from their rented house by the locals with the help of police and BDR and kept them in the field under the open sky. The European Ambassadors visited after two years of their suffering and only expressed their corn, Prejudices and freed from racial and communal jealous as well as apathetic religious disposition.

In the case of Rohingya, it is more pathetic for their refuge across the border brought no change to their suffering. On the contrary, as camped and non-camped refugees, they ended up becoming victims of yet another state power, this time Bangladesh. It is not surprising that the Rohingyas in large number remain ill educate, with the abler lot taking up the profession of small business and petty trading for reproducing their livelihood.

Still there are ten to score of Rohingya millionaires and less than two hundred petty traders and businessman in Chittagong. Only two hundred families, there is no appropriate word that would suffice to describe the horrifying situation facing the Rohingya. Neither they are not treated as human in their homeland, nor are they given a status that could allow them to lead a normal life in a forcing land. So, miserable their way of life is that unmediated attention to redress their suffering is in dire need.

For the last one decade, both Bangladesh and Burma have been working to settle the issue of registered refugees in Bangladesh. Although bulk of them has returned home where there remained concern over their safety and proper rehabilitation. Some 21,000 are still in Bangladesh unwilling to go back.

The government of Bangladesh is very keen to send back the refugees without finding a durable solution for the problem. The UNHCR has been providing facilities to the locals in terms of contracts and compensation of the area where the Rohingya refugees are camped. According to the UNHCR three fourth of the relief money and goods are expend for the Bangladeshi officials staffs and workers of the Rohingya refugee camps while the refugee enjoyed only one third.

There are estimated 400,000 Rohingyas living in Bangladesh including those who migrated during the British period and after the creation Bangladesh. The intellectual society  media and politician of Bangladesh should come forward to create a public awareness on Rohingya issuing which will generate support and congenial atmosphere in the area where Rohingyas are leading a miserable life so that negative picture being portrayed will be replaced with the truth.

About 6000 Rohingyas in Teknaf are extremely vulnerable to seasonal high tides, flooding and cyclones during the monsoon that leads to serious health hazards. UNHCR representative said that the European Commission assured Bangladesh of providing emergency humanitarian assistance once the group is moved to safer ground, but the government considers them illegal migrants.

Communication Minister Nazamul Huda appealed to the International Community to help rehabilitated the Rohingya refugees in their homeland. As Bangladesh is a small country with high density of population it cannot take the responsibility of non-Bangladeshi, he said at a discussion on the Rohingyas. The US government is taking the Karan Refugees to US. We hope the US will also take Rohingya refugees too.  

The refugees also face extortion threats by powerful local elements outside the Rohingya camps who collaborate with camp authorities. The refugees told RI that they feel voiceless, often harassed and abused, not allowed to form refugee committees or even to hold meetings in the camp. If they are outspoken, they are at risk of camp officials lodging a false case against them and sending them to jail. If they mention their concerns to foreigners visiting the camps, they are punished for daring to express their grievance once the foreigners depart.

More restrictions have been placed on the refugees since a violent incident on November 18, 2004, when tensions between refugees and camp authorities, which began with refugees staging a hunger strike in June, reached a boiling point. The Refugees wanted to organize a meeting to discuss their inhumane treatment at hands of the camp authorities, but were prevented from meeting. A brawl ensued and police and local people became involved. By the end of the clashes, three refugees including a minor were killed by the police and 42 refugees detained. UNHCR requested the Bangladeshi government to investigate the incident but so far no investigation report has been produced.

The Bangladeshi government prohibits the refugees from establishing their own management committees to oversee service delivery in key sectors like food management, water, sanitation, health and education. The Refugees receive rations from WFP, which are distributed by teams of refugee volunteers, under the supervision of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society or BDRCS. The Refugees interviewed by RI said that they are victims of local corruption and the BDRCS workers cheat them out of their complete rations, using a fake scale when WFP officials are not around. Consequently some of the refugees end up receiving 5 Kilograms of rice as opposed to the nominal standard of 6.5 kilos per refugee.

Under UNHCR’s phase-out plan, the agency stopped supplying refugees with packets containing spices and basic condiments as part of their rations so man of the refugees have restored to selling part of their rations to outsiders in order to buy spices and other commodities. During the process of selling rations, the refugees are vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the local who have a monopoly on buying rations at low prices. The rates of malnutrition in the camps are distributing. The most recent nutrition survey showed 12.8% of the children were acutely malnourished, including 0.5% severely malnourished; chronic malnutrition was present in 65.4% of the refugee children.

Water and sanitation remain problematic, especially in Nayapara camp where Bangladesh authorities are in charge of these services, and refugees complain of inadequate water, particularly in the dry season. They also report bad sanitation facilities, which lack maintenance and garbage pits located just outside their shelters. As a consequence of poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions, the overall disease environment is alarming, with high levels of acute respiratory infections, skin diseases, worms and diarrhea.

Due to UNHCR’s mismanagement of the transition for service provision in the camps, two international NGOs providing health and nutrition programs to children under ten and pregnant and nursing women, MSF Holland in Nayapara camp and Concern in Kutupalong camp, had to discontinue these services in 2003.  The programs were taken over by the Bangladeshi Minister of Health and Family Welfare. Since the handover, there has been a significant decline in the standard of health services being provided to the refugees. The refugees stress that medicines are in short supply and not easily available, and doctors refer few patients to hospitals outside the camps.

There are significant gaps in the educations services in the camps and as a result of opposition from the Bangladeshi government, refugee children only have access to very poor education services that do not meet minimum basic standards. Literacy rates in the camps are only 12% and instruction per day last just two hours. Even informal education was not permitted in the camps prior to 1997, and at present there is no educational or vocational training for children over the age of 12 years in the camps. Due to the lack of higher educational opportunities, children are not motivated to stay in school.

The teachers in the camp schools are refugee volunteers. Many of them have spent their lives in the camps, where they received a minimal level of education, very basic teacher training , and few incentives. The teachers also are under threat from camp officials and Majees, who accuse them of political activism and they are suspected of writing letters on behalf of refugees. NGO workers involved in the education sector note that teacher training and acquiring more Burmese textbooks for the children has not been a priority for UNHCR in recent months as it is focused on its phase-out.

The Refugees see their conditions deteriorating further with the withdrawal earlier this year of Concern, the last international NGO involved in providing assistance to the camps in education, community services, sanitation in Kutupalong camp and logistics and procurement. Concern was also seen to be playing a role in the protection of refugee through its community service program. With its departure, there is a gap in implementation of projects and although UNHCR has recruited a few former Concern staff to keep programs running until another agency agrees to step, in shortfalls persist.

This paper was submitted at First Rohingya Consultation: Working together to find a solution, on 2-3 August 2006, Sigha Dum Conference Room, Faculty of Political science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, Organized by Centre for Social Development, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, In cooperation with the National Reconciliation Programme (NRP).