U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Bangladesh



Refoulement/Asylum   There were no reported cases of refoulement. However, Bangladesh increased pressure on ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to sign voluntary repatriation forms by threatening to resume repatriation practices that, in the past, included false criminal accusations and arrests, physical abuse, withholding of rations and medical care, and arbitrary relocation within the camp. Authorities also tightened border controls, slowing the influx of new arrivals. In October, refugees stopped entering the country altogether after leaders removed General Khin Nyunt in Myanmar and conditions improved, but this was reversed in February 2005 when the army reasserted control.

The Constitution had no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status but the Government did allow temporary asylum on a case-by-case basis to those the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized as urban refugees.

Some 126,000 to 159,000 Urdu-speaking stateless Biharis remained in 66 camps throughout Bangladesh. They had originally left the Indian State of Bihar for East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) after the 1947 partition and opposed Bangladesh's 1971 war of secession from Pakistan. The International Committee of the Red Cross established camps to protect them from popular retaliation, pending their resettlement to Pakistan. Pakistan accepted some 170,000 but, in 1973, refused to accept more.

In 2003, the Bangladesh High Court recognized ten Bangladesh-born Biharis residing in one camp as citizens, but the Government did not implement the ruling. The Citizenship Law barred from citizenship those who acknowledged allegiance to a foreign state, and the Government claimed that the Biharis had done so by seeking resettlement to Pakistan from the camps in the 1970s. By 2004, however, half of the Biharis lived outside of camps, were 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.

Detention  At year's end, Bangladesh held 642 Myanmarese in Cox's Bazaar jail, including 109 camp refugees and an unknown number of asylum seekers. Refugees and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that camp authorities extorted money from refugees, arrested them on fabricated charges, beat them, and forced them to sign voluntary repatriation forms. In June, refugees in Kutupalong camp held a hunger strike. In November, authorities killed 3 refugees, injured several more, and arrested 42 for "disrupting public order" before and during a violent police raid, some for organizing the strike or writing complaints to UNHCR. Authorities generally did not allow independent monitoring of jails, not even by ICRC, but did allow UNHCR to visit some registered refugees and to provide legal assistance.

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. Authorities sometimes arrested, threatened with detention, or extorted money from refugees whom they caught working outside camps but generally tolerated the informal work of urban refugees and undocumented Rohingyas. Biharis worked informally inside and outside camps. Authorities excluded those residing in the camps from public service and prohibited them from owning property or obtaining trade licenses.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Bangladesh confined most Rohingya refugees to camps and sometimes arrested, threatened with detention, and extorted money from those they caught outside. Refugees had no access to courts to redress these abuses. In 2002, authorities arrested several landlords for housing Rohingyas outside the camps and threatened others. About 4,000 evicted Rohingya set up a makeshift camp in Teknaf. In October, local groups evicted them and 3,000 more who had joined them.

The Government did not enforce movement and residence restrictions against urban refugees whom UNHCR recognized as persons of concern. The Government allowed camp-based Biharis to travel freely throughout the country but did not issue them international travel documents.

Public Relief and Education  The Government allowed UNHCR, World Food Programme (WFP), and local partners to provide basic education, healthcare, and sanitation to refugees in the two refugee camps. However, both Doctors without Borders (MSF) and Concern, the two main agencies providing assistance to the Rohingya, ceased their programs due to an inability to work effectively as well as security problems.

A 2003 UNHCR nutrition survey showed that more than 65 percent of refugee children were chronically malnourished. Their literacy rate was 12 percent. 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 healthcare was poor.

UNHCR gave aid in lump sums to urban refugees in Dhaka, but cut off subsistence allowances several years ago to all but a few. Local partners provided them basic healthcare, education, and vocational training. In September, the Government rejected a UNHCR proposal for "self-reliance" within the camps. In January 2005, the Government did not renew UNHCR's implementing partner's annual clearance as they had since 1993. It also refused to allow self-reliance aid to urban refugees, stating that refugees should be in camps or deported.

The Government provided some Bihari camps with free electricity, but water and sanitation were inadequate, and education and healthcare minimal. Most camps only had one self-supported school lacking equipment, funds, and facilities. In January, the Government stopped subsidizing food to the camps.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)  From the mid-1970s to 1997, civil war in Bangladesh displaced hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic Jumma tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The civil war embroiled indigenous rebels seeking autonomy, Bengalis who had been settled in the area by the Government, and the Bangladesh military.

In May, rebel groups that supported the peace agreement attacked villages associated with rival groups that did not, forcing several families to flee in Rangamati District. In September, rival groups attacked villages in the district, causing some 1,000 to flee to the jungle or to seek refuge in the Kawkhali community center. WFP and the Government aided the displaced but authorities also continued to allow Bengali settlers to expropriate indigenous land. In July, indigenous persons and settlers clashed when 100 Bengali families moved to Khagrachari District.

The Forest Department threatened to evict IDPs from the Kassalong Reserve, harassed others to move out, and continued to designate new areas as reserves. Authorities also threatened three villages with eviction in order to expand an army cantonment in Bandarban District, suspending but not canceling the plan following village protests.

Fundamentalist Islamic groups attacked other religious minorities, including the Ahmadiya Islamic sect. In January, armed arsonists burned 20 Hindu homes and, in August, looted and burned 22 Hindu houses in Lalpur, Natore District. The Human Rights Congress for Bangladeshi Minorities also documented violence against Hindus in Kalia, Norail District in May. Local police did little to stop the violence. Islamist militants also attacked various minorities along the Indian border throughout the year.

There was no law for the protection and assistance of IDPs. Authorities recognized indigenous IDPs as citizens and allowed them freedom of movement.

Authorities generally restricted international NGOs and UN agencies access to IDP areas, but allowed MSF-Holland to provide healthcare. They permitted the UN Development Programme and WFP to train local NGOs and some communities in CHT, but none of these programs specifically addressed IDPs.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


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