Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Bangladesh

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Bangladesh, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 19 November 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

Although formal repatriation exercises halted in 2005, on March 1, 2006, Bangladeshi authorities handed 75 Myanmarese nationals over to the authorities of Myanmar. Some deported refugees managed to sneak back into Bangladesh and share food and lodging with relatives in the camps. The Government also turned back as many ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar as possible at the border.

In May, assailants raped and murdered one refugee mother of six after camp guards sent her on an errand at night in exchange for allowing her brothers to visit her in the camp. In August, police and Kutupalong camp authorities severely beat and hospitalized five refugees attempting to return to the camp with firewood although refugees claim it was in retaliation for their holding banners welcoming U.S. officials when they visited the camp the week before. Local villagers and fellow refugees reportedly sexually abused refugee women and girls in the camps when their husbands and fathers left the camps illegally to work.

Bangladesh had no refugee law. The 1920 Passport Act, the 1946 Foreigners Act, and the 1952 Control of Entry Act applied to all foreigners without exception for refugees.

The Government allowed temporary asylum on a case-by-case basis to those UNHCR recognized in urban areas and to the 26,200 Rohingyas from Myanmar whom authorities confined to Kutupalong and Nayapara camps in the southern Cox's Bazar area. Estimates of the unregistered population ranged from 100,000 to 300,000, many of whom returned from Myanmar after forcible repatriation, living outside the camps without legal status in the Cox's Bazar and Bandarban districts. About 10,000 lived in a makeshift camp between the Naf River and a highway where vehicles killed roughly 25 refugees in 2005 and 2006. There were also about 200 non-Rohingya Myanmarese and about 100 other refugees and asylum seekers of various nationalities in UNHCR's urban caseload.

Canada accepted the first 23 camp-based Rohingya refugees for resettlement and 13 departed during the year. At least 60 to 80 registered refugees left by boat for Malaysia, some landing instead in Thailand. Others left for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan for employment. Several sought asylum in UNHCR offices in Malaysia and other countries in the region, asserting that they did not receive effective protection in Bangladesh.

Some 160,000 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 encamped them after some members of the community opposed Bangladesh's 1971 secession from Pakistan. In 2003, the Bangladesh High Court accepted the application of the right of vote of ten young members of the community, most of whom were born after the creation of Bangladesh. The court's ruling reaffirmed their claim to be citizens. Under the court's directive, the National Election Commission enrolled them as voters. The Government, however, refused to acknowledge the Biharis as a community as Bangladeshis on the grounds that they acknowledged allegiance to a foreign state because they sought resettlement Pakistan in the 1970s.

Half of the Biharis lived outside of camps, integrated into the local community, were eligible to receive passports, to vote, and to attend college, and were able to exercise most of the rights of citizens. About 30 were injured and 20 detained as hundreds of Biharis attempted to march on the Pakistani embassy demanding repatriation.

Detention/Access to Courts

Bangladesh held as many as 400 Myanmarese in prison, most de facto refugees, many for years beyond their sentences for illegal entry and common crimes, most pending trial, and often subjected them to hard labor. There were 88 registered refugees in Cox's Bazar prisons at year's end, 2 in Comilla, and 2 in Chittagong. Courts had convicted only 7 of them and authorities charged 11 with illegal entry. Camp officials also transferred unregistered persons they found in the camp to police, who imprisoned them under the 1946 Foreigners Act.

In July, police arrested 16 Rohingya refugees illegally outside the camps collecting firewood. In December, members of the Rapid Action Battalion arrested 17 registered refugees in Ukhia Township near the border on trafficking and other charges. Several others reportedly wished to contact UNHCR but were unable to do so.

The 1946 Foreigners Act empowered the Government to arrest, detain, and confine foreigners, without exception for refugees, for security reasons. It did not allow detention longer than six months, however, "unless an Advisory Board ... has, after affording him an opportunity of being heard in person, reported before the expiration of the said period of six months that there is, in its opinion, sufficient cause for such detention." The Advisory Board heard the cases of 15 refugees in prison beyond the sentences their offenses prescribed, 8 of them under the Foreigners Act, and released 3.

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 the first half of the year, law enforcement agencies arrested the ringleaders of Harkat Ul Jihad al Islami, most of whom courts sentenced to death. None, however, belonged to Rohingya refugee groups. Nevertheless, law enforcement agencies were reportedly searching members of the RSO, accusing them of involvement in criminal and terrorist activities. Local law enforcement also alleged infiltration among the refugee population of militants linked to arms smuggling and international fundamentalist organizations.

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 the deaths of three refugees, including a minor, and 42 arrests. Despite UNHCR protests, the Government did not act on 2005 reports that a police inspector and his staff severely beat and attempted to rape four refugee women and two girls in the camps.

UNHCR issued identification to about 200 mandate refugees outside of the camps.

Article 31 of the 1972 Constitution guaranteed legal protection not only to citizens but to "every other person for the time being within Bangladesh" in particular that "no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law." Article 102 also allowed for petitions to the courts for protection of fundamental rights but there was no record of refugees effectively using either.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Authorities confined some 26,200 Rohingya refugees to camps and arrested, detained, beat, withheld rations from, and extorted money from those they caught outside. The Government restricted all humanitarian aid through the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management to refugees registered in the two official camps.

Refugees needed permission from local officials to travel outside of the camp, and only received it for medical and hospital referrals, court appointments, and family visits between camps. In practice, however, most adult males were able to leave and return on a daily or periodic basis either clandestinely or by paying substantial bribes to camp security personnel.

Local authorities forced some 10,000 Rohingyas 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 1946 Foreigners Act, without exceptions for refugees, permitted the Government to require foreigners to reside in particular places and to impose "any restrictions" on their movement. The Government did not enforce movement and residence restrictions on urban refugees 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. Travel documents for refugees were available only for repatriation or resettlement.

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. Authorities sometimes arrested, threatened with detention, or extorted money from refugees whom they caught working outside camps. On several occasions, camp personnel, forest guards, and local villagers beat refugees because of competition in the labor market, forest wood collection, or fishing. Refugees and asylum seekers also had no legal rights at the workplace, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in the informal job sector.

The authorities repeatedly rejected UNHCR's offers of self-reliance initiatives for refugees but did allow UNHCR to pay refugee laborers in a pilot project to reconstruct dilapidated camp shelters. They also generally tolerated informal, low-skilled day labor by urban refugees and undocumented Rohingyas such as in agriculture or fishing.

Stateless Biharis (also known as Stranded Pakistanis) in camps were not eligible for public sector jobs nor for commissioners' certificates or character references that employers required. Most of those who worked did so in the informal sector.

Refugees could neither legally run businesses nor own property. According to the U.S. State Department, the Government forbade Rohingyas from possessing money and said it could confiscate money in their possession at any time. It did not attempt to do so, however, in 2006. Authorities prohibited Biharis from owning property or obtaining trade licenses. Banks required citizen certificates from Ward Commissioners to open accounts, excluding both refugees and stateless Biharis.

Public Relief and Education

The Government provided no public assistance and restricted humanitarian access to refugees. More than half the children in the refugee camps suffered from chronic malnutrition and about 17 percent from acute malnutrition. Reversing its earlier position, the Government allowed a UNHCR pilot program to rebuild 20 dilapidated camp shelters that were sinking into the ground. Refugees received rations from the WFP since their arrival in Bangladesh. Many sold part of their rations to Bangladeshis living nearby to purchase spices, vegetables, meat, clothing, and medical services.

Flooding was rampant in the unregistered Dum Dum Meah camp on the banks of the Naf River as were diseases such as malaria, odium, cholera, pneumonia, and diarrhea. In May, some 20 children there died of tropical diseases. In the first half of the year, officials of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission at Cox's Bazar barred UNHCR-procured medicines from the camps for several weeks, causing the deaths of two refugees.

UNHCR provided informal schooling in the camp up to grade five. Refugee children in urban settings had access to primary education. The Government only allowed education in Burmese although it was not the refugees' native language and many speak Bengali. Late in the year, the Government agreed to allow some informal education in Bengali but did not do so. Only 12 percent of camp residents were literate. In September, the Government agreed to make improvements in education.

UNHCR gave subsistence allowances, basic medical services, education, and vocational training only to those refugees it recognized in Dhaka that it considered particularly vulnerable. The Government reversed its refusal in 2005 to grant annual clearance to UNHCR's implementing partner in the camps.

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.

The Government did not include refugees in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors or other development plans, but the UN Country Team included their situation among the six key priorities in its own development plan and activities and lobbied the Government to include them in national plans and activities.

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