d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.
Starting on August 25, the country experienced an influx of more than 646,000 Rohingya migrants from Burma, more than doubling the existing refugee and undocumented migrant population in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar, near the Burmese border.
The government had a mixed record of cooperation during the year with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government restricted UNHCR access in the first eight months of the year to only the 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees and did not allow UNHCR access to the undocumented Rohingya population, estimated to be 200,000-500,000 individuals prior to August. They lived in the towns and villages outside the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District. The government also initially denied UNHCR unrestricted access to the new influx of Rohingya refugees during the post-August 25 mass influx. Following advocacy from UNHCR and the international community, the government agreed in late September to allow UNHCR to provide protection and assistance to the full population of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. The government allowed access to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other UN agencies to provide services to both the registered and undocumented Rohingya populations in Cox’s Bazar, as well as the new arrivals, after August 25.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March.
In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The government restricted most of the Rohingya population to the official and makeshift camp areas in Cox’s Bazar. It established checkpoints on major routes to stop movement from the border with Burma to the settlement areas and the established camp areas.
Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. In March a senior BNP official alleged authorities detained and harassed her for four hours at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport prior to her departure for Australia despite a court order not to prevent her from traveling abroad. She allegedly faced similar circumstances during her departure for the United Kingdom in July.
Adilur Rahman Khan, the founder of the human rights NGO Odhikar, was detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 20 for 14 hours while traveling to a conference entitled “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in Malaysia.” The Asian Human Rights Commission alleged that the Bangladesh government orchestrated Khan’s detention and deportation from Malaysia to Bangladesh.
The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.
The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to Bangladesh policy.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict that persisted from 1973 to 1997. This policy relocated landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.
The IDPs in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.
In August 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year, as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. The term of the commission chair, Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque, ended on September 6, and the government had not appointed his replacement at year’s end.
The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs dwelled in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Prior to September the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and IOM provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazaar. As of December the government and UNHCR estimated that 900,000 to one million undocumented Rohingya were in the country, including more than 655,000 Rohingya who entered the country seeking refuge from violence that erupted in Rakhine State, Burma, on August 25. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived in makeshift settlements and in unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhiya subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, security, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and a survey of the undocumented Rohingya.
According to the United Nations, more than 50 percent of the new arrivals since August 25 were female, including approximately 16,000 pregnant women. The new Rohingya arrivals took shelter in jungles, hill villages, and open spaces along the road from Ukhiya to Tenkaf and built homes mostly with bamboo poles and plastic sheets. The government reserved a 3,000-acre tract of land to build a megacamp designed to accommodate the new influx.
The government deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities, and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. Senior government ministers stated that the new arrivals would not be recognized as refugees, referring to them as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.”
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection and assistance to Rohingya from Burma resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the August 25 influx of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new arrivals biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. As of mid-December more than 844,000 Rohingya had been registered biometrically, to include the more than 655,000 new arrivals since August 25 and Rohingya who had arrived earlier.
Freedom of Movement: There were restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 25 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the government-designated areas.
Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.
Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums; this worsened after the August 25 influx. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.
Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, expanded during the year to include through the seventh grade in the official refugee camps, compared with the fifth grade in previous years. The government permitted UNHCR to design and operate a nonformal, basic education program in the official camps, which reached an estimated 8,000 youth (ages three-14). The government allowed international NGOs to provide informal education to Rohingya outside the official refugee camps, starting with a group of 10,000 students.
Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites and access to local hospitals as needed.
Six international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities prior to the August 25 Rohingya influx. In response to the crisis, the government allowed additional NGOs to work in Cox’s Bazar. Some organizations reported delays in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya.
The Rohingya in the country were legally or de facto stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.