South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) conducted a fact-finding mission to Bangladesh from 7 – 11 December 2017 to assess the human rights concerns of the Rohingya refugees, in particular those who fled Myanmar due to violence after 25 August 2017, and the social and economic impact of their presence on Bangladesh, especially on local communities.
The mission comprised Mr. Bharat Bhushan (India), Ms. Jeehan Mahmood (the Maldives), Mr. Rajendra Ghimire (Nepal) and Ms. Sara Hossain (Bangladesh) and was led by Ms. Sultana Kamal (Bangladesh). Ms. Deekshya Illangasinghe (Sri Lanka) represented the SAHR secretariat.
The mission objectives include assessing the background to the present humanitarian crisis, the regional and international response to it, and highlighting emerging concerns.
The mission visited Kutapalong and Balukhali camps, and the Hindupara area in Ukhiya and met with refugees, local residents, government officials, the police and UN agencies, including the UNHCR and IOM, and civil society, including journalists and NGOs, in Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka.
This fact finding mission is the first regional South Asian initiative of its kind.
The mission appreciates the generosity of the people of Bangladesh in providing immediate assistance and protection to over 600,000 Rohingya refugees for Myanmar. It also notes that the state of Bangladesh has reached a bilateral “arrangement” with Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya people.
While commending the Government of Bangladesh for rising to the challenge of welcoming an unprecedented influx of refugees, and one of the largest in the world, we note our initial findings as follows:
- The refugees reported excessive and extensive violence, torture, loss of life, sexual violence and rape, forced displacement, enforced disappearance and destruction of property and livelihoods.
- All the refugees to whom we spoke clearly stated that they want to return to their homeland but only with guaranteed citizenship rights, assured safety and justice.
- Most camps we visited appeared to have a sense of relief at settling down with access to basic shelter and services. The refugees were openly grateful for the humane response of the Government of Bangladesh and Bangladeshi people, particularly those in the Cox’s Bazar area.
- In terms of rations and food, some reported that while basic supplies of rice, lentils and oil were sufficient, quantity had been reduced after the initial generous distribution. There is an impression amongst some local government officials and the local people that the refugees have accumulated excess food and are selling it in the local market to generate cash for their supplementary needs. Despite this claim of sufficient food, medical workers reported severe to moderate malnutrition especially among children and women.
- There is a lack of access to clean and potable water in the camps. Instances of tube-wells being dug too close to toilets have led to an acute watery diarrhea outbreak in some parts of the camps.
- As toilets are far apart, women, children, the aged and people with disabilities have limited access, especially at night. Women reported that they are visiting toilets in groups at night for security reasons.
- There is no electricity, and limited lighting in public spaces in the camps aggravates concerns about safety and security, particularly of women and children, at night. The use of kerosene to light up spaces inside the camps to compensate for the lack of it and for cooking in such proximity of housing units may be potentially hazardous in the event of a fire.
- The large presence of pregnant women amongst the refugees needs adequate ante-natal and subsequently post-natal medical care as well as birthing care. We noticed a lack of awareness and urgency among certain service providers on these issues. Access and availability to requisite medical facilities seems to be an issue as of now.
- There are no medical facilities available to refugees in the camps after they are closed for aid workers in the evening. This can make dealing with medical emergencies difficult.
- There is a worrying silence about raped women . These women need mental health and psycho-social counselling. They need to be identified, dealt with sensitively, and provided with requisite health care.
- There are hardly any schools in the camps. Children seemed to have toys but no books of any kind were available to them.
- There is nothing for refugees to do in the camp once they have settled. There is no constructive and organized engagement or activities for them as they are forbidden to move out of the designated zone and have no right to work.
- Local people came forward to help in the initial stages of the influx of refugees but now there seems to be growing resentment as the refugees are entering the local labour market illegally.
- While a number of police check-posts have been set up between the camps and Cox’s Bazar, there is a continued risk of human trafficking and people smuggling.
- The Hindu Para camp in Ukhiya seems to lack the basic facilities and services relating to health, food and shelter that have become routinised in the other camps. As a minority of Hindu Rohingya refugees, they have some specific security concerns which need to be addressed.
- There seems to be a palpable lack of coordination between the relief and service providers, despite the existence of inter-sectoral coordination mechanisms
While appreciating the stupendous responsibility assumed by the Government of Bangladesh in dealing with one of the biggest refugees crises in the world, we call upon the Government to:
- reexamine the appropriateness of the nutritional packages being supplied; Ensure continued access to food, shelter, health and clean drinking water in all sites, including spontaneous settlements and host communities; in particular, ensure access to health care for vulnerable people and for those with specific needs, including pregnant women; and provide lights in streets and sanitation areas, for adequate security.
- set up long term policies and procedures to effectively deal with the refugee crisis, in compliance with relevant international norms and standards.
- enunciate a clear policy for the refugees to access basic services such as hospitals and schools.
- improve coordination among the aid agencies and local administration for effective service delivery.
- sign the Refugee Convention of 1951, and adopt implementing legislation, to ensure a rights-based national framework to ensure the rights of the refugees.
- urgently establish and facilitate a mechanism for psycho-social support for the refugees.
- take effective measures to prevent the influence of extremist forces and human traffickers in the refugee camps.
The Government of Myanmar to:
- create a conducive environment for the safe return of the refugees by ending all violence and committing to end discrimination.
- ensure justice for gross human rights violations and establish an effective mechanism leading to inter-community reconciliation in the Nothern Rakhine State.
- provide just reparation for returning refugees.
- take appropriate measures to resolve citizenship issues including movement, property, access to education and employment and language in the Northern Rakhine State in a just, accountable and transparent manner so that such humanitarian crisis are not created again.
- bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities from the Myanmar Army or other security forces or individuals.
Recognising the significant response of the aid agencies we call upon them to:
- ensure better coordination among aid agencies, civil society and government for effective delivery of services to the refugees
- establish mechanisms for intra and inter agency cooperation to improve effective mobilization of resources
- make a more concerted effort to enhance the capacity of the organisations, in terms of expertise and resources.
- provide a cash allowance to refugees for their non-food and supplementary needs.
Given the magnitude of the crisis we urge all South Asian governments to
- come forward to share the responsibility of resolving the Rohingya refugee issue.
- provide South Asian experts and volunteers to join hands with the Bangladeshi compatriots to manage this crisis which is not likely to be resolved within a short period. The absence of South Asian countries in the relief efforts is noticeable.
- to facilitate movement and access of civil society organizations across South Asia to continue responding to the refugee crisis
- cooperate regionally to help Bangladesh and Myanmar ensure the safe and voluntary return of the refugees with the dignity and rights due to them. On behalf of the mission members and South Asians for Human Rights,
Profiles of the mission members can be accessed here