Title Myanmar/Bangladesh Rohingyas - The search for safety
Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 September 1997
Country Bangladesh | Myanmar
Topics Forced labour | Freedom of movement | Integration | Involuntary repatriation | Non-refoulement | Racial / Ethnic persecution | Refugee camps | Rohingya (Arakanese) | Voluntary repatriation
Citation / Document Symbol ASA 13/007/1997
Reference Amnesty International is a worldwide voluntary movement that works to prevent some of the gravest violations by governments of people's fundamental human rights. The main focus of its campaigning is to: free all prisoners of conscience people detained an
Cite as Amnesty International, Myanmar/Bangladesh Rohingyas - The search for safety, 1 September 1997, ASA 13/007/1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9931f.html [accessed 18 October 2017]
Comments Thousands of Burmese Muslims from the Rakhine (Arakan) State in Myanmar, known as Rohingyas, have fled into southeastern Bangladesh during the first half of 1997. Unlike more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees who came to Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992, these new arrivals are largely living in local villages rather than in designated refugee camps. The Government of Bangladesh has not permitted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview these people, asserting that they are all economic migrants. Amnesty International is aware of reports that some of the new arrivals have stated that they have left Myanmar solely because of economic hardship. However, it is concerned that others are in fact people fleeing serious human rights violations in Myanmar, and therefore would be in need of protection. Indeed, it should be noted that the distinction between economic hardship and violations of civil and political rights is not necessarily a clear one; for example, many of the Rohingyas have been unable to make a living due to continuing unpaid forced labour in Rakhine state. Given the grave human rights situation in Myanmar, it is impossible to state in a blanket fashion that Rohingyas are only fleeing economic hardship and therefore are not worthy of protection. Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992 fled massive human rights violations in the Rakhine State, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced labour and portering. The range and extent of these abuses constituted widespread repression of the Rohingyas by the Burmese security forces, resulting in unprecedented numbers of refugees fleeing the country. Although the human rights situation in the Rakhine State has marginally improved, forced labour, portering and forcible relocations under harsh conditions continue to be reported. Such practices are common throughout Myanmar, but members of ethnic minorities such as the Rohingyas are particularly vulnerable. Amnesty International has received reliable reports from eye-witnesses who have recently observed forced labour of civilians in the Rakhine State. According to witnesses Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities including the Arakanese and Mro, were forced to work on roads and bridges by the Burmese security forces in December 1996 and during the first half of 1997. The border patrol police in Myanmar, known as the Na Sa Ka, were reportedly one of the security forces responsible for seizing them as labourers. The long-term human rights crisis in Myanmar has meant that tens of thousands of refugees from various ethnic minorities have fled to neighbouring countries, primarily Bangladesh and Thailand. Such massive outflows have created an enormous burden for these two countries, who are under pressure to provide safe havens for these people with very limited resources themselves. Bangladesh needs international support to ensure that refugees are given protection and an appropriate level of treatment. Mass flights of refugees are an international responsibility; countries that happen to be the nearest point of safety should not be left alone to bear that responsibility. The refugee burdens Bangladesh and Thailand face make it even more imperative for the international community, including both governments and intergovernmental organizations such as the EU, to increase pressure on the SLORC to clean up its human rights record. These new arrivals joined some 21,800 Rohingyas living in camps in Bangladesh, the remainder of the over 250,000 refugees who had fled in the early 1990s. Since then tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been repatriated, although various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed concern that the repatriation operation has gone forward without a fundamental improvement in the human rights situation in Myanmar, and have questioned whether the repatriation of many of these refugees was truly voluntary. The SLORC has reportedly agreed to accept only 7,500 of the remaining 21,800 Rohingyas. UNHCR has requested the Bangladeshi authorities to allow the remaining 14,000 Rohingyas to settle in Bangladesh. The repatriation process stopped in April 1997, but on 20 and 22 July 1997 the Bangladeshi security forces forcibly returned 399 Rohingyas from Kutapalong and Nayapara camps. After protests from UNHCR, who had been denied access to the refugees, the Government of Bangladesh agreed not to return any Rohingyas against their will. However the government stated at the same time that none of the Rohingya refugees would be allowed to remain in Bangladesh permanently.
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