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Fear & Uncertainty - Rohingya

Liz Mys
RB Article
June 30, 2015

"There are other islands nearby, habitable for humans." But the one potentially to be inundated with 3-4 feet of tide water and at risk of pirate attacks and cyclones has been singled out to be mentioned in the latest "plan", suggesting that the government is looking to relocate the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. 

This latest statement was made by the forest department official following the recent big news of the plight of the Rohingya, as well as poor Bangladeshi, trying to flee and crossing the seas into Thailand and Indonesia. The news also uncovered the even more massive scale of human trafficking ring and horrendous stories of extortion and torture in the cruel treatment of the people fleeing on the boats. 

In their native country Myanmar the government has been accused of implementing the crime against humanity of persecution against the Rohingya.

Burma's post-colonial government, elected in 1948, officially recognized the Rohingya as an indigenous community. In 1982 their status became"Illegal Immigrants" with the new Citizenship Law of dictator General Ne Win. 

The direct involvement of the local, state, and national government in the violence. Government officials have enforced explicitly racist policies for decades, and have failed to intervene and even participated in violent attacks against Rohingya. 

The UN General Assembly Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide [1], which defined - any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[1]

The question of are the Rohingya being pushed into this category? Yes and most appalling that over the past decade alone, from the 1990s to now, many has fled and hundreds thousands more have been targeted and killed. Top international law order and countries have not acted firmly enough against the Myanmar government to put a stop to this. 

UNHCR estimates since the outbreak of violence in 2012, that 130,000 Rohingya have fled Bangladesh and western Arakan state.

Those who have fled remain stateless, suspended and with no fundamental rights and limited access to health care, education and livelihood opportunities. The largely Muslim state in Arakan face persecution in civic, economic and political rights by the Myanmar military junta, in apartheid like system and been complicit with nationalist and religious extremist groups, who have numerously called on crack down on the Rohingya Muslims. 

Local media have reported that the Bangladeshi government, in this latest meeting, was considering on moving the 2 registered camps of Nayapara and Kutupalong to Hatiya Island, several hours journey away by bus and boat. There are 31,000 people in the 2 camps alone, not counting the 200,000 to 400,000*[2] people in makeshift unregistered camps.

There have been several different reports over the years about the government of Bangladesh plans on repatriation, another to reduce International organizations aid and latest to relocate the thousands of Refugees from Myanmar.

In the 2491kmsq area of Cox's Bazar District to Teknaf, with 920 per sq km density, one wonders what and how much really of an impact does the 200,000 to 400,000 numbers of unregistered Refugees have on the government's claim with regards told the development of the area, if any. 

The report on the ground about the illegal homes being torn down last week in Ukia by the forest department specifically targeting Rohingya homes has been found to be exaggerated, as most of the actual houses were by majority, owned by local Bangladeshi families and that only a few houses belonging to Rohingya family were affected.

The UN and the Bangladeshi government is responsible for the 2 registered camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara. The World Food Program handles the ration card food distribution for the camps.

The conditions of the camps are quite terrible. It may look proper and acceptable from the entrance of the camp where the main strip of road runs from entrance to the in camp shops. As you travel down from the main entrance, you can see the food ration center, the several International organizations offices, with the CIC office, a woman's sewing center, a woman's clinic and a small soap making factory, a "self-sufficiency" program implemented so that some of the women Refugees get to work. It paints a picture of a good camp set up, fit for a UNHCR sponsored camp. 

Even with the skills taught, on a rotational basis, without access in both financial and for materials and equipment stock needed, many of the skills fade without materializing in a long term benefit for the people. 

It is when you go beyond that main strip of road you will see the real living conditions of the camp. Leaking roofs, taps without running water, choked and foul smelling drains, dark and cramped living quarters with 8 members of the family living in poorly ventilated shacks. 

The water shortage problem of Nayapara[4] and the conditions of its Camp clinics, to the unrepaired huts in which the families live, raises the question of how much is really being done above whatever foreign aid the local communities in the surrounding areas receive. The IPD clinic in the camp is also in a very poor state of the facility and the reported constant lack of supplies.[5]

The Refugees in and outside of the camps are restricted to be able to find work to sustain and support themselves although some of them living in local villages do take low paying jobs as fishermen and laborers. Usually working in the informal sector as illegal, low-paid laborers, on a hand-to-mouth existence, they are also extremely vulnerable to harassment by local people and police. 

Anti Rohingya sentiment is high among Bangladeshi communities living near the camps, sometimes stoked by jealousy that Rohingyas receive food and other aid. The locals claims it's more difficult for Bangladeshis to get jobs because Rohingyas could be hired at such low costs. 

The literacy level for the area is 21.9%. There has not been a real effort in trying to get data or formally register the influx of refugees besides that of the 2 camps, making them even more vulnerable in peril, being stateless and illegal people. 

A few hundred Rohingyas, most of them residing illegally, are currently detained. Some arrested for petty criminal offences, but more often because of being ‘illegal’ or criminalizes by false accusations made by the local police. 

The situation with the Refugees brings up the concern that Bangladesh, Thailand and India, have not been signatures to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention), which is the most important refugee law and has been ratified by 142 nations[3]. This reflects not only the unwillingness of these countries to submit to international scrutiny on their refugee policies. A consistent legal framework is vital to refugee protection.

New repatriation report broke out in September of 2014, suggesting that a plan was in the works and mentions of Affidavits signed by 2500 people back in 1993 and that the police, was going to call on them to repatriate them back to Myanmar. 

These affidavits set up then, was a second phase after the 1991-1992 influx of refugees, where the UNHCR helped to broker between the 2 countries on the repatriation program. 

It was declared that these refugees are being repatriated based on their own will and set out personal details. Once the affidavits are cleared by the UNHCR officials, the refugees are taken across the Naf river on boats to Burma accompanied by officials from UNHCR. The first set of repatriation was abandoned as concerns over security of the situation in Myanmar for the Refugees to return and live safely. 

The story however was different from the refugees themselves, as it was reported that they were being repatriated against their will and forced and made to sign the affidavits through pressures including verbal and physical harassment and ill-treatment. 

This kind of treatment is in violation of the United Nations Convention on Refugees (1951).

A statement was made once again in November 2014 on a possible move issued by the government to move the 2 camps to "a better location". 

In one of the government meetings, it was brought up that "the camps were hindering tourism" in nearby Cox's Bazar, which boasts the world's longest unbroken beach. In February 2015, 3500 homes were torn down to clear the area for the development of the Marine Drive Road.

One can say, the entire Cox's Bazar district has yet to become a major international tourist destination, and has no international hotel chains, due to lack of publicity and transportation. 

Removing tens of thousands of people onto a remote island which is unsafe because of tide patterns and threats of pirates sounds like an action of Epic disasters in terms of set up, logistics and short of another political nightmare. A UNHCR country representative on a previous comment said, any relocation would entail "substantial financial commitments which may be hard to secure during a time when UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is facing multiple crises and more displaced people than ever, all over the world”.

International agency cooperation or offers of funding have not, historically, solved the problem. 

Existing Reality:

With the latest 2015 UN Global appeal budget of close to $14MILLION, a significant increase from the $5Million in 2009[4] it would be a heavy undertaking in a relocation of that magnitude.

The living conditions in the registered camps alone, with repair and maintenance of existing huts have not been consistent, let alone managed with care and the meager food rations for the Registered refugees -who sometimes share with their more struggling families in the unregistered camps, causing widespread malnutrition most seen in the young children- has been heavy costs on the organizations budget.

If the government goes through with this latest plan and shifts the camps, they will shift only 2 registered camps. Where will they go the 200,000 to 400,000* unregistered people go then? What is the future for them?

The continued and collective failure in providing protection and upholding international humanitarian and human rights principles, from the IDP camps in Sittwe to the camps in Bangladesh, Thailand only exacerbates and does not really solve the main root cause, that is the slow genocide that has been going on, with direct involvement of the local, state, and national government of Myanmar that is resulting in massive influx of refugees in the span of the several decades since Rohingya have been fleeing from persecution. 

Members of the world governments should only seek bilateral and regional economic relations with Myanmar with the conditions on the ethical and humanitarian treatment enforced to put a stop to the genocide and inhumane treatment of the Rohingya.



History on the Rohingya

· The Rohingyas, constitute the largest minority group in the state of Arakan and have been subjected to severe discriminatory policies by the government of Burma. They have endured large-scale human rights violations such as forced labor, denial of education, rights to property, freedom of movement, religion, etc;

· Today, there are about 21,000 documented Rohingya refugees from the state of Arakan in Burma, in the two camps of Kutapalong and Nayapara in Teknaf, Bangladesh;

· In addition, more than 200,000 ( and perhaps as much as 350,000) Rohingyas live outside the refugee camps in Bangladesh alone with no formal documentation as refugees;

· Thousands of undocumented Rakhine Buddhists have also fled to Bangladesh and live outside of formal encampments;

· The government of Bangladesh with assistance from UNHCR has recently begun a program of rapid repatriation of the refugees to Burma, with the latter emphasizing its need to cut down its program in Teknaf and the former eager to address the ‘problem once and for all.

Photos by Andrew Day Photography 


[1] UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
*Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the U.N. General Assembly on 9 December 1948. 
Entry into force: 12 January 1951. 

[2] Rohingya Refugees figure in Bangladesh 

[4] 2009 UN Global Appeal for Bangladesh 

Further Reading

• Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State

• Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Conditions of Refugee Camps:

Ref: Access to Water and Sanitation in Refugee Settings: Success and Setbacks in Bangladesh Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal Sikder 2010

[6] Substandard Medical Care Claims Another Life At A Bangladesh Rohingya Refugee Camp

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