- Dr. Mazharul Islam:
The Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted, oppressed, and stateless refugee communities. The injustice started with them back in 1960. Afterward, in 1982, the military regime of Myanmar snatched their citizenship and made them more vulnerable in the world. They are the stateless Refugee living in Teknaf and Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Currently, Bangladesh is hosting more than 1 million Rohingya Refugees without being the signatory of the 1951 refugee convention. Hence the effort has earned an excellent reputation in the country.
Some controversial statements and actions from the top level of the government have turned the reputation into question. An unwanted statement by the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has hurt civil society- the Rohingyas are now in a much more comfortable position in Bangladesh. There would not be such comfort in the future, so they need to decide what they will do, whether they will stay here or go back to their native country. [September 4, 2019; Prothom Alo] Later, in 2021, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh ordered the law enforcement agency to shoot Rohingya refugees who are alleged to have a connection with drug dealing and arms trading. In a democratic state where a regular justice system is in place, why has such irresponsible order has made up? It is inhuman and intolerable and not acceptable in the 21st century. [October 22, 2021; Prothom Alo]
Moreover, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, referred to the Rohingya refugees and stranded Pakistanis as a burden to the country. [October 18, 2021; Prothom Alo] However, Secretary-General of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir criticized the government’s effort to manage Rohingya refugees; the government has failed to take adequate steps to handle the Rohingya issue. The current government wants to retain the Rohingya issue and take international advantage, especially from the Western world. [September 28, 2021; Prothom Alo] These controversial statements from the government and criticisms from the opposition party raise a question. Is the government trying to solve the Rohingya problem, or is it planning to prolong its power by keeping this problem alive?
The government of Bangladesh imposes strict restrictions upon the Rohingya Refugees that have made severe criticism. Restrictions over using the mobile phone and not being allowed to contact their family left behind in their country were high-lightened in an article in a Wall Street Journal. [September 3, 2019; Wall Street Journal] International Refugee and human rights law demonstrated that every Refugee has the right to communicate with relatives left behind in their home country. Here, the Bangladesh government fails to uphold the fundamental rights of refugees to communicate with their family members. The article featured in The Economist articulated that restricting the Rohingya Refugees from using mobile phones is pushing them towards more oppression and disasters position. [September 4, 2019; Wall Street Journal]
Fifty human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to remove restrictions on the use of mobile phones and internet in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and stop building fences around the camps. In a letter, it was said that, from September 2019, the government has called upon restrictions on Rohingya Refugees’ mobile phone use. The Bangladeshi government has instructed mobile phone operators to limit internet coverage in the vicinity of refugee camps. Refugees have complained that, in some cases, the government has banned using mobile phones. The news in a Wall Street Journal stated Bangladesh government removed the official who had permitted the peaceful assembly of Rohingya refugees. [September 5, 2019, Wall Street Journal] As per the Human Rights Law, every person has the right to peaceful assembly, and the Bangladesh government has failed to ensure such rights.
Journalist Kamal Ahmed pointed out in Prothom Alo that Rohingya refugees were involved in drug dealing, smuggling, and human trafficking under the direct assistance of influential local drug dealers, smugglers, and human traffickers. These have been reported in the local and national newspapers, including an investigation by the law-enforcement body. [September 9, 2019; Prothom Alo]
Inside the Rohingya camp, clashes broke between two parties to take control of the illicit drug trade, and more than two thousand Rohingyas had to flee from their camp to another camp; as a result of the conflict, dozens of shelters were set on fire. The government has failed to ensure the safety of Rohingya refugees, violating Article 32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which states the right to protection of the law for nationals and foreigners, including refugees. [October 9, 2020; Prothom Alo]
A Rohingya refugee leader Muhibullah and a few other refugees killed by the fanatic from 2017 to date expose law enforcement agencies’ utter failure. [September 29, 2021; Prothom Alo] Muhibullah was the chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH). He played an essential role in the repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar. Subsequently, the UN refugee agency UNHCR strongly condemned the killing of Rohingya leader Muhibullah. [September 30, 2021; Prothom Alo] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for a speedy and neutral investigation of the murder of Rohingya leader Muhibullah. [October 2, 2021; Prothom Alo] Still, the investigation has not seen the light of hope.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the human rights society, have requested that the Bangladesh government not relocate the Rohingya Refugees to a remote area named Bhasanchor. [December 3, 2020; Prothom Alo] On May 31, 2021, Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visited the Rohingyas camps in Bhasanchar. As soon as they reached there, 500 to 600 Rohingyas started protesting. Refugee International alleges that the Rohingyas were offered money and Bangladeshi citizenship to persuade them to move to Bhasanchor. [May 26, 2021; Banner News American]
Police have arrested 287 Rohingyas, including two women, from different places in Teknaf and Ukhiya for moving out of their camp in search of a job. [April 6, 2022; Prothom Alo] US’ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reported that the Bangladesh government interfered with their freedom of movement and barred them from leaving the country. [May 15, 2022; Voice of America] Even it is not allowed to move independently into their camps (around 33). Even though sometimes they face barriers from moving from one camp to another. Recently, it has been seen that though people can move inside the camp, they are being arrested and detained if they go outside the camp. This is a complete violation of the human rights law, and the Government of Bangladesh cannot avoid its liability.
The lack of refugee law in Bangladesh is a significant obstacle. An even more significant obstacle is the massive number of unregistered Rohingya refugees who are not under any protection. Institutional education for the Refugee in Bangladesh is closed for both the recognized and the unrecognized. No refugee shall be deprived of the benefits of education under the Refugee and Human Rights Law, and the hosting government should take necessary measures. In this case, the Bangladesh government failed to accommodate the right to education. [January 29, 2022; Prothom Alo]
Although the Government of Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention and Protocol 1967, Bangladesh still cannot avoid its responsibilities and obligations towards refugees, as the country is the signatory of most of the human rights conventions pledged to uphold the same. Moreover, in its observation of Writ Petition No. 10504 of 2016, the High Court said that the Convention on Refugees 1951 had become customary law; even if Bangladesh does not sign it, there is no chance to evade the provisions mentioned in the Convention. [Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RAMRU) v. Government of Bangladesh and others] Finally, we can say that Bangladesh’s reputation in the international arena for providing shelter to Rohingya refugees is in question today. Therefore, those at the policy-making level should give their statement carefully and take steps more consciously so that no violation of human rights and refugee law is noticed.
Writter: Teacher and Human Rights Activist