Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Bangladesh

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Bangladesh , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reported cases of refoulement but authorities pressured ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to repatriate. The Government reportedly turned back Rohingyas who tried to enter at the border, claiming that they were economic migrants.

Only 92 refugees repatriated, down from 210 in 2004, despite a January offer by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide $225 in housing grants as an incentive. Some claimed coercion by camp officials, several refused to go at the last minute, and others returned to Bangladesh soon after crossing the border into Myanmar. In Myanmar, authorities prosecuted 283 persons for illegal departure to Bangladesh.

The Constitution had no provision for granting asylum or refugee status but the Government did allow temporary asylum on a case-by-case basis to those UNHCR recognized in urban areas and to the 21,000 whom authorities confined to two camps in the Cox's Bazaar area.

Bangladeshis reportedly gang-raped one refugee widow in front of her children when they had gone to gather firewood in December. Clashes in July between refugee groups in the squatter settlement in Teknaf injured 40. In March, a police inspector and his staff reportedly beat severely and attempted to rape six refugees, including two girls aged eight and ten. UNHCR protested to camp authorities but the Government did not act. Camp authorities reportedly justified beating refugees as a punishment alternative to imprisonment. On hundreds of occasions during the year, camp authorities reportedly confiscated ration books as punishment, extorting bribes for their return.

Some 126,000 to 159,000 Urdu-speaking stateless Biharis, who had originally left the Indian state of Bihar for East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) after the 1947 partition, remained in 66 camps throughout the country. Authorities had put them in camps after some of them opposed Bangladesh's 1971 secession from Pakistan. In 2003, the Bangladesh High Court recognized ten Biharis, most of them born after 1971, as citizens, and the National Election Commission enrolled them as voters. The Government refused to recognize the community as a whole, however, citing a bar in the Citizenship Law to those who acknowledged allegiance to a foreign state and the fact that they had sought resettlement there in the 1970s.

Half of the Biharis lived outside of camps, integrated into the local community, and were eligible to receive passports, to vote, and to attend college, and were able to exercise most of the rights of citizens. Hundreds of Biharis demanding resettlement marched on the Pakistani embassy in February 2006, where clashes with the police resulted in 30 injuries.

Detention/Access to Courts

Bangladesh held 115 UNHCR-registered refugees and one asylum seeker at the end of the year for illegal entry, presence, or employment, as well as for crimes. Camp officials turned unregistered camp residents over to police, who imprisoned them under the Foreigner's Act. Authorities detained some 20 Bihari demonstrators after they clashed with police in front of the Pakistani embassy (above).

The Rohingya Solidarity Organization, the largest Rohingya group in Bangladesh, reportedly had ties to Jamaat-e-Islami, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, and other militant Islamic groups. In October, authorities arrested 25 Rohingyas in Chittagong saying they had admitted involvement with Islamist militants who set off more than 400 time bombs in 63 of the country's 64 districts on August 17 and bombed courts earlier in the month. Afterwards, the Ministry of Home Affairs called for the arrest of all Myanmar refugees living outside the camps.

Authorities generally did not allow independent monitoring of jails, not even by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but did allow UNHCR to visit some registered refugees and to provide them with legal assistance. Despite UNHCR's request, the Government did not produce an investigation report of the November 2004 police repression of a refugee protest meeting that resulted in three deaths, including that of a minor, and 42 arrests.

UNHCR issued identification to mandate refugees but this applied only to about 200 refugees in urban areas. The Constitution's Article 31 guaranteed equal protection for citizens and for "every other person" staying in the country but local authorities widely ignored it.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Bangladesh confined some 21,000 Rohingya refugees to camps and sometimes arrested, threatened with detention, and extorted money from those they caught outside. Following the October arrests (above), the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered authorities to arrest Rohingyas living outside the camps. Local authorities forced some 6,000 to 10,000 Rohingya to squat on the tidal flats of the brackish Naf River after forcing them out of nearby villages. A delegation from UNHCR, the European Commission, and five donor countries visited the site and asked the Government to allow them to move to safer ground, promising humanitarian aid if it did. The Government refused.

The Government did not enforce movement and residence restrictions against refugees in urban areas whom UNHCR recognized as refugees or "persons of concern." The Government allowed camp-based Biharis to travel freely throughout the country but did not issue them international travel documents. Upon UNHCR request, ICRC could issue travel documents to refugees but there were no such requests during the year.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees and asylum seekers did not have the legal rights to work, to engage in business, or to own property. The Government refused to allow UNHCR to set up any self-reliance activities inside or outside the camps. Authorities sometimes arrested, threatened with detention, or extorted money from refugees they caught working outside camps. The authorities generally tolerated informal, low-skill labor by refugees in urban areas and undocumented Rohingyas such as deep sea fishing, cutting wood, making bricks, pulling rickshaws, or working in salt fields. One mother in the Teknaf settlement said, "We collect leaves from the forest and cook them for our children." Further, the Government forbade Rohingyas from possessing money and said it could confiscate money in their possession at any time.

Authorities tolerated Bihari work in the informal sector but excluded them from public service and prohibited them from owning property or obtaining trade licenses.

Public Relief and Education

Sixty-five percent of children in the refugee camps suffered from chronic malnutrition and thirteen percent from acute malnutrition. The Government refused to allow UNHCR to rebuild camp shelters, many of which badly needed repair. Flooding was rampant in the Teknaf river settlement as were diseases such as diarrhea. Three refugees reportedly starved to death.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided primary education to children in 16 schools in the camps but there was no higher or vocational training. According to refugees and NGOs, the quality of education and health services was poor. In order to encourage repatriation, the Government only allowed education in the Burmese language although the refugees' native tongue is a local Chittagong dialect and many speak Bengali. Most refugee children were illiterate.

UNHCR gave lump sums to some of the refugees it recognized in Dhaka, but no longer gave subsistence allowances except to those it considered particularly vulnerable. Local partners provided the refugees basic medical services, education, and vocational training. In January, the Government refused to grant annual clearance to UNHCR's implementing partner even though they had granted it since 1993. It also refused to allow self-reliance aid to refugees in urban areas, stating that refugees should reside in the camps or be deported.

The Government provided some Bihari camps with free electricity, but water and sanitation were inadequate, and education and health services minimal. Most camps only had one self-supported school, lacking equipment, funds, and facilities. Schools outside the camps denied camp-based Biharis admission.

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