Human Rights Watch Latest Report Examines the Hardships Rohingya Refugees Face Living in Bangladesh

The latest report from Human Rights Watch “Bangladesh Is Not My Country: The Plight of Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar” examines the deteriorating conditions Rohingya refugees face living in camps in Bangladesh after hundreds of thousands fled from their homes in Rakhine State, Myanmar after the military waged a brutal campaign against them in 2017.

The report estimates 626,000 refugees are living in Kutupalong-Balukhali Camp, also known as the largest refugee camp in the world. The ‘mega camp’ based in Cox’s Bazar is currently overcrowded with limited space for its ‘inhabitants’; the average useable space per person is 10.7 square meters despite the recommended international standard of 45 square meters. Infectious diseases, violence, and tensions amongst the inhabitants are serious risks associated with overcrowded camps.

Human Rights Watch’s latest report featured research from Xchange’s Rohingya Repatriation Survey 2018 that examines the general feelings amongst Rohingya refugees about living in camps.  Our survey was conducted over a one-month period. Our team on the ground surveyed over 1,700 Rohingya refugees who arrived after 25 August 2017, across 12 refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  When respondents were asked to state the three most difficult aspects of life in Bangladesh for themselves and their family, 70% of respondents stated ‘health issues’. 65% of respondents in our survey also reported providing their family with adequate food, water, and shelter as a critical issue.

Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch refugee rights director and author of the report said:

Bangladesh has rightfully garnered international praise for receiving 700,000 Rohingya refugees, though they still face difficult conditions. Bangladesh should register fleeing Rohingya as refugees, ensure adequate health care and education and let them pursue livelihood outside the camps.

Despite attempts to build adequate infrastructure and implement safety plans from aid agencies to protect their residents, the Bangladeshi government did not anticipate environmental risks such as cyclones, flooding, and landslides.  Due to the temporary status of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, authorities have been pressured to speed up the repatriation process to return them to Myanmar instead of building permanent structures for longer stays.

The Bangladeshi government plans to relocate 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, a remote island 30 km away from the mainland and prone to severe flooding.  The move to transfer refugees comes under fire from Human Rights Watch and other aid agencies.

In response to the criticism, the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on their efforts so far:

The ultimate solution for the Rohingya problem lies in safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return.

The Ministry maintains that due to land scarcity and a population of nearly 160 million in Bangladesh, Bhasan Char was the only option. The report warns that moving refugees to a remote island with limited access to public facilities would further isolate the minority group from mainstream society in Bangladesh. Instead, Human Rights Watch found six possible sites within an 8 km range from the Kutupalong-Balukhali that could accommodate 263,000 refugees. Frelick recommends that the government of Bangladesh relocate the refugees to nearby land within the same district where space is abundant. He also urged governments and international organisations to provide humanitarian aid for Bangladesh and pressure Myanmar to return the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine province.

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[Bangladesh: Rohingya Endure Floods Landslides, Human Rights Watch]

[Bangladesh is Not My Country: The Plight of Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar, Human Rights Watch]

[ Human Rights Group Opposes Moving Rohingya to Island Camp, Washington Post]