Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rohingya refugees from Burma mistreated in Bangladesh

Human Rights Watch reports "Rohingya refugees from Burma living in Bangladesh face an increased risk of mistreatment and are being denied access to necessary humanitarian aid by the Bangladeshi authorities, endangering thousands of civilians and compelling many to seek refuge in nearby countries..."

“The Bangladeshi government is ignoring its obligations to protect Rohingya refugees and permit international relief agencies to assist with the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This shameful situation has dragged on for many years and is now causing secondary migration flows to countries as far away as Thailand and Malaysia.”

In early March Bangladeshi authorities destroyed a large part of a refugee settlement called “Tal” which housed over 6,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma at Teknaf, south of Cox’s Bazaar, close to the border with Burma. No alternative shelter was provided for the people being displaced.

Refugees in this makeshift camp had been living in a small piece of land close to a main road with limited access to food, social services and international assistance since October 2004, when Bangladeshi authorities had evicted them from rented homes because they classified them as undocumented people from Burma instead of refugees. Bangladeshi authorities shifted part of the “Tal” camp to extend the nearby highway. Large numbers of homes have been destroyed and there is a critical lack of basic services.

Abuses by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies are reported to be widespread in and around Rohingya refugee camps, including reports of sexual violence against women. In the two official refugee camps of Nayapara and Kutupalong, people are routinely punished for traveling outside the camp to find food or money and often must resort to selling meager rations to corrupt camp officials or outside merchants. Authorities refuse to permit permanent structures to be built in the camps as a way of encouraging refugees to return home. Children are denied access to education. The provision of health services and access to medicines is also limited by the authorities, as are work and livelihood opportunities inside the camp.

Bangladeshi authorities are also limiting access of Rohingya refugees to international aid. Aid groups such as UNHCR and MSF are only permitted to retain low staff levels and limited programs, and are regularly frustrated by local Bangladeshi authorities from instituting projects that make the camps more established and provide regular services.

“The Bangladeshi government should be helping needy refugees instead of making life difficult for them,” said Adams. “It should work with international humanitarian agencies to create safe spaces and basic services for people fleeing persecution in Burma. This is just basic decency.”

Since October 2006, more than 2,000 Rohingyas from Bangladesh and Burma have arrived in nearly 40 fishing boats in southern Thailand, many reportedly trying to make their way to Malaysia. These Rohingya refugees and migrants have been shifted by the Thai authorities from Phang Nga and Ranong provinces in southern Thailand to Mae Sot in Tak province, and then forced into Burma, where they are subject to detention and ill-treatment. On March 10, 67 Rohingya men were forced back into Burma by the Thai military to an area controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a pro-Burmese government armed group. Most of the men have since returned to Thailand. On March 23, Thai authorities arrested another 56 Rohingya men around Mae Sot and deported them to the same DKBA area on March 24.

Under the 1951 Refugees Convention, this constitutes “refoulement,” as the men were forcibly returned to a territory from which they had “a well founded fear of persecution” and to which their return would constitute a threat to their lives and freedom."

The MSF website refers to the rohingyas as "Unwanted and homeless on a small stretch of marshland"[Click here to see the MSF article]. The MSF 2006 Activity Report "revealed high mortality rates and increased malnourishment of small children in a makeshift camp near the town of Teknaf, in the southeastern tip of Bangladesh. The camp is home to more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees - ethnic Muslims who fled neighbouring Myanmar, where they are subjected to widespread repression. The camp is a squalid and crowded stretch of land where people live packed into shelters constructed from wood and small pieces of plastic."

UNHCR reports that after 15 years of stagnation, some improvements have come to Bangladesh camps. However, as the UNHCR 2007 Operations Plan reports, Myanmar remains the largest refugee producing country in the Asian region. The plight of the Rohingyas is one of the most tragic stories of refugee displacement in a terrible pantheon that appears to be getting worse under the new world order.

1 comment:

Free Burma! said...

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.