Bangladesh – Treatment of Rohingyans – September, 2017

Origin The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority residing primarily in Rakhine State, western Myanmar. The majority of them is Muslim, minority-follower of Hinduism. The Rohingyans speak a Bengali dialect similar to what is spoken in the Chittagong region of Bangladesh.[1] They do not have Myanmar citizenship because the law applies to them limits access to citizenship for migrants who were settled after the British governance. Myanmar perceives them as Indian migrants settled from Bangladesh and calls the Bengal community. Because of the lack of citizenship, Rohingyans are limited to move in Myanmar, do not have the right to vote, do not get education and cannot serve in the public service.

Conflict in Myanmar and Displacement of Rohingyans to Bangladesh

The conflict in Myanmar between the Rohingya people and government forces has been going on for many years. Periodic bloodshed clashes are taking place between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority, mainly Rohingya. As a result of large-scale clashes, many Rohingya forced to leave the country and seek an asylum in the neighboring states.

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have arrived in Bangladesh in waves since at least the 1970s. In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. After international pressure the Myanmar government allowed most of the Rohingyas who had fled to Bangladesh to return.[2]

During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape.

Over the last decades, the biggest confrontations took place in 2012 when a Rape-Murder of a Buddhist girl by Muslims led to riots and because of this the state of emergency was declared in the region.[3]

In October 2016, following a violent attack on border guard posts, an estimated 74,000 people crossed from northern Rakhine State into Bangladesh because of subsequent violence. At the end of 2016, there were an estimated 490,000 refugees from Myanmar in the neighboring countries.[4]

As the number of people attempting to enter the country increased significantly towards the end of November, the government deployed additional Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and coastguard ships to patrol the border. According to the BGB, at least 2,320 Rohingya were pushed back into Myanmar during November alone and at least another 2,400 additional people during the first half of December.[5] Between January and September, according to UNHCR, Bangladeshi authorities forcibly turned back an estimated 3,487 Rohingya to Burma, compared with 4,719 during the same period in 2015.[6]

New bloody clashes began in August 2017 when the members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) invaded the Myanmar military base. In response to this, the Myanmar government has carried out an anti-terrorist operation that led to the new flow of Rohingya asylum-seekers.

Following the conflict, it became known that the Rohingya settlement was burned down. The Human RightsWatch published satellite images where it is visible that 700 buildings are burned in one of the villages inhabited by Rohingya.[7]

As a result of these confrontations, the Myanmar migrants in Bangladesh can be divided into three categories:

1) Influx of refugees in the early 1990s 33,000 registered refugees living in two government-run camps, Kutupalong and Nayaparaserviced by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partners in south-eastern Bangladesh;

2) More than 70,000 Rohingya new arrivals who are believed to have fled a security operation between October 2016 and February 2017;

3) A third category consists of an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh between the two influxes. They live in makeshift sites and local villages, and until recently had no access to humanitarian aid.[8]

It should be noted that Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol.

The status of Rohingyans in Balgladesh

According to Amnesty International the Rohingya in Bangladesh are legally stateless. The Bangladeshi authorities have refused to register newly arrived Rohingya as refugees since 1992, in an apparent attempt to dissuade further people from entering the country. Tens of thousands live in several informal camps in Cox’s Bazar, including Leda and Kutupalong makeshift camp (KMC), while others have settled in local villages or towns.

In the absence of a formal response, initial food and shelter needs were met in an ad hoc manner, with Rohingya already in the country and the local Bangladeshi host communities acting as the first line of response. Many new arrivals found their way to family members or former neighbors already living in official camps or makeshift sites. This put an obvious strain on already limited living space and resources. According to Refugees International the people of Bangladesh have often shown a sense of solidarity with Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, assisting new arrivals and living peacefully alongside longer term residents but the large numbers have also brought tensions and created political opposition. Rohingya are often perceived and portrayed as illegal migrants stealing the jobs of the host population. The many Rohingya living in makeshift settlements near the beaches in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf are seen by the government as a detriment to plans to develop the tourist industry.

The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally.

According to special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief the general perception seems to be that the Rohingyas mostly entertain a rather conservative understanding of Islam, which raises suspicion against them in parts of the population.[9]

Undocumented Rohingyans in Bangladesh

According to Amnesty International undocumented Rohingya refugees live in extremely poor conditions, with limited access to food, water and basic services. With few employment opportunities, some resort to illegal activities to make a living, including the drug trade or human trafficking, as many Rohingya make irregular journeys to other countries from Bangladesh in search of livelihood. Undocumented Rohingya also live in constant fear of arrest under Bangladesh immigration laws, in particular the Foreigner’s Act of 1946, which imposes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for “illegal” entry.[10] Many Rohingya are therefore reluctant to leave the informal camps in search of work or food.

In 2014, the Bangladeshi government announced a new national strategy for undocumented Rohingya refugees, which focused on meeting their basic humanitarian needs, strengthening border management and engaging with the Myanmar government. The Bangladesh government completed a census of the undocumented Rohingya refugees in June 2016 but has not yet made the results public. The government claims the census will lead to better access to services and to granting basic legal status to undocumented Rohingya. Starting in May, the government funded and implemented a survey of the undocumented Rohingya population in the six districts where they are most populous. As part of an awareness-raising campaign, the government stated that the survey would be used to improve services available to the undocumented Rohingya population. Other key messages of the awareness-raising campaign included that the survey was voluntary, would not lead to refugee status, and would not be used to force repatriation.  While the census has been welcomed as a positive step which could lead to improved access to basic services of all Rohingya refugees, there has also been criticism raised against it. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are thought to have purposefully avoided being counted, in part because they feared the survey would lead to them being returned to Myanmar, according to credible sources with knowledge of the process. It is also concerning that an unknown number of children from mixed Rohingya-Bangladeshi parents were counted as undocumented Rohingya refugees, despite their right to Bangladeshi citizenship under international human rights law.[11]

According to 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Bangladesh by United States Department of State, the members of the unregistered population had no legal protection and were sometimes arrested because the government viewed them as illegal economic migrants. Rohingya were sometimes harassed by security forces due to a perception among some groups, including the government, as well as members of indigenous groups in the CHT, that the Rohingya were responsible for perpetrating a range of criminal and terrorist activities in Southeastern Bangladesh. For example, following the May 13 attack on security forces near the Nayapara official camp, authorities responded by detaining and questioning five Rohingya refugees, including an NGO volunteer.[12]

Newly arrived refugees

According to Amnesty International the government of Bangladesh, at least throughout October and November, refused to provide aid to newly arrived refugees in order to avoid creating a pull factor. International aid agencies have made formal requests to the government to assess the needs of, and to assist, the newly arrived refugees, but these requests have been rebuffed. Since early December, the Bangladeshi government appears to have, at least informally, relaxed some of the restrictions on aid to the new arrivals. On 6 December, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported having provided some basic aid, including non-food items such as clothes and blankets, to newly-arrived refugees in camps. Other aid agencies have been privately told by the government that they can provide aid to newly arrived refugees, mainly in the form of non-food items, and allow refugees to access other services, but the government has not been willing to officially grant them permission to do so in order to avoid a pull-factor.[13] Although it is welcome that such restrictions on aid appear to have loosened considerably from January 2017, they have not been fully lifted.[14]

Without access to aid, many of the new refugees are living in extremely poor conditions and on the brink of survival. Cox’s Bazar is already one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh, and the large movement of new arrivals has strained the resources of the local community. Tens of thousands of other new arrivals began construct­ing new shelters in unoccupied public lands, using mud and basic materials like bamboo, string, and plastic sheets bought or donated by the local host population. These struc­tures are often fragile, unbearably hot in the summer, and vulnerable to the high winds and heavy rains of the monsoon season. The lack of developed water and sanitation systems in the new sites added further to increased health risks.

Many of those arriving are in poor health and in need of urgent medical attention. The most frequent medical problems on arrival are dehydration, diarrhoea, fever, pneumonia, coughing and skin diseases.

Some new refugees have managed to access medical clinics in Cox’s Bazar. However, local clinics are monitored by BGB personnel, and some Rohingya told Amnesty International that they did not seek medical attention out of fear of being detained and deported.[15]

According to Refugees International In dozens of interviews with new arrivals, food was consistently cited as the primary concern. WFP was eventually allowed to supply emergency rations of 25 kilograms of rice per family every two weeks, a prac­tice which continues at the time of writing this report. Despite this and supplementary nutrition kits distrib­uted by NGOs, the new arrivals, lacking livelihood opportunities, continue to struggle to find enough food.

WFP runs an electronic voucher program in the official camps for those recognized by the government as refugees, and money is transferred to cards for refugees to spend in special local shops, allowing better tracking of food assistance and more choice for refugees. WFP is seeking to expand the program for targeted food assis­tance in the makeshift settlements housing UMN and new arrivals, but at the time this report was written, WFP was still awaiting approval from the Bangladesh government.[16]

As of August, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to 32,967 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara).[17]

Access to Medicine:

According to Refugees International by mid-March, Médicins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) had opened a satellite clinic at the new Balukhali camp and IOM had opened one at Kutupalong. Fortuitously, a new 10-bed IOM hospital in Leda had been under construc­tion and was able to open in November.[18]

One of the most positive aspects of the emergency response has been the cooperation of the Government of Bangladesh and NGOs in carrying out immunization campaigns. Given the measles outbreak and the threat of cholera, the government worked closely and quickly to reach tens of thousands of people. The coordinated response stems from previous cooperation. The govern­ment has long allowed medical treatment to all people in the country whether documented or not and has worked closely with the UN and NGOs to allow immediate care and to establish a referral system for cases that require further attention.[19]

Access to Education:

For officially recognized refugees, education is provided up to the eighth grade and enrollment and attendance are estimated at 70 to 80 percent.[20] For UMN, options are much more limited. Even for those who complete their educational opportunities in the official camps, the certificates they receive are not recognized by the Government of Bangladesh, so they are unable to pursue further education. There are some cases of Rohingya refugees finding their way into higher education, but those cases are rare.

prior to the crisis, UNICEF had already begun expanding beyond its host community programs to provide pre-school and first grade classes in learning centers in the makeshift settlements. With the onset of the crisis, these efforts were accelerated, including the establishment of child safe spaces and community-based child protection net­works in the makeshift settlements and the opening of a UNICEF office in Cox’s Bazar in June 2017.[21]

According to U.S State Department the government agreed to allow international NGOs to provide Rohingya outside the camps with access to informal education. Government authorities did not allow refugees outside the camps to attend school, but some did so.[22]

 

 

Violance:

According to Refugees International between December 2016 and April 2017, nearly 200 GBV cases were received by the ISCG protection group in four settlements housing around 120,000 new arrivals and other UMN.[23] Women, adolescent girls in particular, are also vulnerable to falling into sex trafficking networks. Levels of sexual violence against Rohingya women – by both the local population and other refugees – are very high. These crimes are perpetrated with almost total impunity partly because the victims lack access to the formal justice system.[24]

In the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Bangladesh done by U.S State department it was mentioned the statistics by UNHCR which reported cases of refugee abuse, including rape, assault, and domestic violence, deprivation of food, arbitrary detention, and documentation problems. From January to September, UNHCR reported a total of 168 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the two official camps, including 129 cases of domestic violence and 14 cases of rape.[25] According to a June IOM report, 53.5 percent of those surveyed in Rohingya populations living in makeshift settlements also experienced violence. Of those, 50.5 percent said they experienced physical violence, 6.5 percent said they experienced sexual violence, 3.8 percent said they experienced mental abuse, and 2.8 percent said they experienced food deprivation. These reports continued at year’s end.[26]

According to U.S state department unregistered Rohingya refugees, including potential trafficking victims, may have been at risk of indefinite detention because of their lack of documentation.[27]According to the same source Rohingyans whose stateless status and inability to receive aid and work legally increases their vulnerability to human trafficking. Though numbers of such migrants were significantly fewer than in previous years, some Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who travel by boat to Southeast Asian countries are subject to exploitation when they are unable to pay ransoms and are instead sold into forced labor.

According to the same source extremist organizations claiming affiliation with Da’esh and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) increased their activities in the country, executing high-profile attacks on religious minorities; academics; foreigners; human rights activists; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community members; and other groups. The government responded with a strong anti-militancy drive, which human rights groups claim has resulted in increased extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions for the purpose of extortion, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses of human rights.[28]

Government Activities

The Government of Bangladesh is trying to solve the problems related to Rohingyans but the large flow of refugees is further complicating the situation in Bangladesh that was not so pleasant even prior to the crisis.

According to the U.S State Department led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, addressing security threats, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and surveying the undocumented Rohingya.[29]

At the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the UN in September 2016, the Government of Bangladesh made a pledge in which Bangladesh said it would issue information cards that would provide protection and access to basic services, including freedom of movement, access to livelihood, and informal education opportunities.

In order to solve housing problems for refugees and develop humanitarian services the government adopted a plan according to which Rohingya refugees should be relocated to one of the islands of Bangladesh, Thengar Char. This plan has caused great resonance from various organizations and activists. The UNHCR, criticized the relocation proposal in 2015, calling it “complex and controversial” and saying that departures would have to take place with the migrants’ consent.[30]

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said the plan threatened a human rights catastrophe and a humanitarian disaster. “Bangladesh should be looking for ways to better protect the Rohingya rather than coming up with punitive plans that will put their lives at risk,” said Robertson.[31] According to the Human Rights Watch, Relocating the refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area to Thengar Char Island would deprive them of their rights to freedom of movement, livelihood, food and education, in violation of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.[32]

[1] Amnesty International, The Rohingya: Fundamental rights denied (Index: ASA 16/005/2004), May 2004.

available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[2] Amnesty International, The Rohingya: Fundamental rights denied (Index: ASA 16/005/2004), May 2004.

available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[3] International Crisis Group (ICG), Myanmar Conflict Alert: Preventing communal bloodshed and building better relations , 12 June 2012, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[4]  UNHCR GLOBAL REPORT. REGIONAL SUMMARIES. Asia and the Pacif. 2016. available at: http://www.unhcr.org/publications/fundraising/593e4c627/unhcr-global-report-2016-asia-pacific-regional-summary.html [accessed 8 September 2017]

[5] Amnesty International, ROHINGYA: PERSECUTED IN MYANMAR, NEGLECTED IN BANGLADESH (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[6] United States Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016.

available at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265532 [accessed 7 September 2017]

[7] Burma: Satellite Images Show Massive Fire Destruction. (2017, September 05). available at:  https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/02/burma-satellite-images-show-massive-fire-destruction [accessed 8 September 2017]

[8] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (n.d.). UNHCR seeks equal treatment for all Rohingya in Bangladesh. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2017/3/58cfac434/unhcr-seeks-equal-treatment-rohingya-bangladesh.html?query=rohingya [accessed 8 September 2017]

[9] Human Rights Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his mission to Bangladesh. January 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[10] THE FOREIGNERS ACT, 1946. (ACT NO. XXXI OF 1946). Article 14. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[11] Amnesty International, ROHINGYA: PERSECUTED IN MYANMAR, NEGLECTED IN BANGLADESH (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[12] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[13]Amnesty International, ROHINGYA: PERSECUTED IN MYANMAR, NEGLECTED IN BANGLADESH (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[14] Amnesty International SUBMISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE (Index: ASA 13/5584/2017), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 9 September 2017]

[15] Amnesty International, ROHINGYA: PERSECUTED IN MYANMAR, NEGLECTED IN BANGLADESH (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[16] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 11 September 2017]

[17] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[18] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[19] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[20] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 11 September 2017]

[21] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[22] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[23] Refugees International, Reluctant refuge: Rohingya safe but not secure in Bangladesh, July 2017, available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[24] Amnesty International, ROHINGYA: PERSECUTED IN MYANMAR, NEGLECTED IN BANGLADESH (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), October 2016. available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[25] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[26]  See above

[27] United States Department of State, 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report – Bangladesh, 27 June 2017, available at:

[accessed 7 September 2017]

[28] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available at:

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[29] United States Department of State, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Bangladesh, 3 March 2017, available

[accessed 8 September 2017]

[30] Sattar, M. (2017, January 31). Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh to Be Relocated to Remote Island. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/31/world/asia/rohingya-refugees-bangladesh.html?mcubz=1[accessed 7 September 2017]

[31] Agencies, S. A. (2017, February 02). Plan to move Rohingya to remote island prompts fears of human catastrophe. Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/feb/02/bangladesh-government-plan-move-rohingya-remote-island-human-catastrophe [accessed 7 September 2017]

[32] Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh: Reject Rohingya Refugee Relocation Plan, 8 February 2017, available at:

 [accessed 7 September 2017]