Bangladesh: New restrictions on Rohingya camps
(New York) – Authorities in Bangladesh have in recent months intensified restrictions on the livelihoods, travel, and education of Rohingya refugees, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities have arbitrarily destroyed thousands of shops while imposing new barriers to movement in the Cox’s Bazar camps, depriving the Rohingya of the opportunity to live freely and independently.
Bangladeshi authorities should lift new restrictions, allow markets and schools to reopen, and facilitate donor efforts to improve refugees’ access to livelihoods, healthcare and education.
“Bangladesh is understandably overwhelmed with hosting almost a million Rohingya refugees, but denying them opportunities to work and study only increases their vulnerability and dependence on aid. said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government of Bangladesh should formalize and expand employment opportunities to empower Rohingyas and enable them to support their families and communities.”
Human Rights Watch in February and March 2022 spoke with 13 Rohingya refugees who described how the new restrictions made it difficult for them to provide for their families, educate their children, or build communities. At the same time, the Bangladeshi authorities pressured the refugees to resettle on the island of Bhasan Char or return to Burma. Deteriorating conditions in the camps raise concerns that authorities are acting deliberately to coerce refugees to leave, Human Rights Watch said.
Even before the shops were demolished, the Rohingya said access to employment was their biggest concern in the camps, according to a Survey 2021 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Although refugees are not officially allowed to work, more than half of Rohingya and 30% of children aged 15-17 reported informal work, putting them at risk of exploitation and arrest.
The informal markets set up by the Rohingya have become vital sources of income to cover basic needs and supplement aid rations. But from October 2021, officials started bulldozed stores in several camps, often without warning. Over 3,000 stores have been destroyedaffecting tens of thousands of refugees.
Mohammed Ali, 37 (all refugees are identified by pseudonyms), ran a clothing store that was demolished without warning, destroying BDT 300,000 ($3,500) worth of clothes and leaving him in debt. “I had to take out loans to expand my store’s products,” he said. “Now it has become impossible for me to repay them.”
A trader, Abdul Amin, 28, said shop owners tried to negotiate with Camp-in-Charge (CiC, an official in Bangladesh) when they learned that other markets were in the process of be demolished. “They didn’t hear our demands,” he said. “They didn’t even allow us to remove the remaining products from our stores. They just came and demolished with bulldozers. My loss is worth about one million BDT ($11,600).
Abdul Amin said 40 refugees depended on his business, including 15 of his family members and the families of his four employees. “Now I cannot buy extra food that my family needs,” he said. “I can’t afford the medicine my mother needs. I cannot educate my children… My workers continually tell me how difficult it has become for them too to provide for their families.
Refugees said income from shops helped them supplement limited food rations of oil, rice and lentils. “The ration we receive as aid is not enough for a whole family,” said Mohammed Ali, who earned around BDT 30,000 ($350) a month from his clothing store to support his family of 10. people.
Amir, 37, ran a mobile phone repair shop and earned about BDT 500 ($6) a day, which allowed him to buy vegetables, fish and supplies for his family of six. “Now the authorities don’t even allow me to run my business from my shelter,” he said. “I really don’t understand how our simple initiative to live a little better in the camps is harming Bangladesh.
A 35-year-old grocery store owner said his family of 11 and the families of his two employees depend on the store’s income. “The demolition of the market destroyed my store and so many others like mine,” he said. “Now we have become beggars again.”
Deputy Commissioner for Refugees of Bangladesh, Shamsud Douza, noted stores were demolished because they were “illegal”. A senior government official Recount UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, “Livelihoods are not Bangladesh’s responsibility”.
Many refugees said their attempts to continue operating their businesses from their shelters had also been cut short. “Since the demolition, the authorities do not allow us to run another business,” said Muhammad Ali. “They said it was forbidden and that we weren’t living in our own country, we were living in another country and we couldn’t make money in another territory.”
Nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have no recognized legal status, which places them in a precarious position under national law and makes them vulnerable to violations of their rights. However, as a party to core international human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obligated to ensure that everyone within its jurisdiction, including refugees, has access to basic rights, including freedom of movement, means livelihoods, education, and health care, Human Rights Watch said.
The Rohingya also described new arbitrary restrictions on movement inside the camps in recent months, including threats, frequent curfews and harassment at checkpoints. “Before, we used to move freely in the camps to visit friends and families,” Amir said. “But now we face a lot of questioning from the authorities every time we are outside our shelter.”
A refugee, 43, said he had been able to move freely inside the camps in the past, but in December officers from the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) stopped him at a checkpoint on his way to his family in another camp, claiming that he did not have permission from the camp official. “This time they made me wait at their checkpoint until my family members bought off the APBn officials,” he said. “Since then, I have stopped coming out of my shelter.”
Another refugee, 22, said that Majhis (Rohingya community leaders) told his neighborhood that camp officials had ordered Rohingyas not to leave their shelters at night. In February, two police officers stopped him at a checkpoint in the late afternoon as he was returning to his shelter after visiting relatives. “One of them started slapping me, saying I was lying,” he said. “They took me to the APBn police barracks at Camp 12 and kept me there overnight.” He was released the next day after paying a bribe of 30,000 BDT ($350).
Authorities began building fences in the camps in 2019, ostensibly to keep refugees safe. Instead, the fences deny them freedom of movement while exposing them to serious risk during emergencies, such as fires, that have resulted in preventable deaths. There have been six fires so far in 2022, which Save the Children called “avoidable”, urging officials to create additional openings in the fence.
New restrictions have also been imposed on education, depriving Rohingya children of the opportunity to learn and build an independent future. In December, authorities in Bangladesh banned Rohingya-run community schools, affecting around 60,000 students.
Refugees and aid groups fear the recent tough restrictions are part of the government’s efforts to coerce refugees to resettle in Bhasan Char or be repatriated to Myanmar. Bangladeshi authorities have already moved around 22,000 Rohingya to the remote, flood-prone island, where they face severe movement restrictions, food and medicine shortages and abuse by security forces. . Many of them were transferred without full and informed consent and were prevented from returning to the mainland.
The government of Bangladesh has also renewed its efforts to repatriate the Rohingyas, to announce his priority “is the immediate repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homeland, Myanmar”. In January, Bangladeshi officials held the first meeting of a new task force formed with officials from the Burmese junta, announcing joint plans to “quickly complete the verification process”.
Two previous repatriation attempts have failed, with Rohingya refugees refusing to return due to the continued risk of persecution and abuse in Myanmar. In December, the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar reported that “the conditions for a safe, sustainable and dignified return of the Rohingya to their homeland do not currently exist”, given the frequent atrocities committed by the Myanmar junta and the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution to which face the Rohingyas.
Refoulement, the forced return of refugees to places where their lives, physical integrity or freedom would be threatened, occurs not only when the authorities expel refugees directly, but also when indirect pressure is so intense that it brings people to believe that they have no choice but to return to a country where they run a serious risk of harm.
The 2022 joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, which calls for $875 million, is up to date. unfunded. Donors including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Australia should increase funding to meet the massive needs of the Rohingya refugee population while urging Bangladesh to reverse its restrictions on means livelihoods, travel, and education, Human Rights Watch said.
“The US, UK and other donors should help ensure Rohingya refugees have access to the education, jobs and other tools needed to rebuild their lives,” Ganguly said. . “It is essential that governments work together to address these issues and show solidarity with the Rohingya in the face of the growing crimes of the Burmese junta.