Undermining of the Refugee Status of the Rohingya Refugees
Επιστολή μας προς Ύπατο Αρμοστή του ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες με κοινοποίηση προς τους Απεσταλμένους Επιτρόπους σε Dhaka και Cox’s Bazar στην Μπανγκλαντές.
**Αυτή τη φορά, εκφράζουμε τις έντονες ανησυχίες μας για τη υπονόμευση της ιδιότητας του πρόσφυγα στους Ροχίνγκια, αφαιρώντας τους έτσι τα δικαιώματα και τη προστασία που απορρέουν από αυτή, σε αντίθεση με τη Σύμβαση του ΟΗΕ για τους πρόσφυγες του 1951, το Πρωτόκολλο του 1967 και το Γενικό Διεθνές Δίκαιο. **
To: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees-Suisse
C/c: UNHCR Representation Office,Dhaka,Bangladesh
UNCHR Representation Office,Cox’s Bazar,Bangladesh
Dear Mr Filippo Grandi,
Honourable United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,
|Subject:||Undermining of the Refugee Status of the Rohingya Refugees|
We are the Volunteer Doctors Cyprus, a Cypriot NGO dedicated to the provision of medical and other humanitarian assistance to people in need around the world. One of our purposes under our statute is the collection and securing of data, information and evidence for the conditions under which individuals and populations live and the causes that brought them in situations of danger and emergency.
In the summer of 2018, while the Rohingya humanitarian crisis was still developing rapidly, we organized a 10-day mission to Bangladesh for the provision of medical treatment to the Rohingya refugee population residing and still incoming by the thousands, at the refugee camps of Teknaf. Since then, we have created the donor-based program “Education for the Stateless”, in order to financially and administratively support the education of unregistered refugee children, through a school established and maintained by a remarkable young refugee activist, Mohammed Aziz,
The above-mentioned person, alongside his two brothers Mohammed Faisal and Mohammed Saiful, has an astounding record of activism for the benefit of the Rohingya refugee population and maintains constant contact with the UNHCR Representation in Bangladesh. Among others, Aziz has worked at the Rohingya Health Unit, he has been regularly reporting from the camps, for the website arakantimes.com as well as international outlets, he has organized and led various community efforts including demonstrations, protests, funding campaigns and information campaigns for COVID-19, and he has met with different visitors at the camps, including the UNSC delegation in 2018 and journalistic teams. It is important to emphasize that Aziz has faced harassment, physical violence, and detention on numerous occasions due to his activism.
From our part, we remain in regular contact with Aziz and we are the recipients of credible information regarding the situation in the camps. Consequently, we have sent on multiple occasions letters to the Representative of the UNHCR in Bangladesh (some of them communicated to the Rohingya Refugee and Repatriation Committee of Bangladesh and the Consulate of Bangladesh in Cyprus. The above mentioned letters concerned matters ranging from the lack of provision of sufficient drinking water to the refugees last summer, to the urgency of taking steps to protect the refugees from the pandemic. We express our deep admiration and gratitude for the work that the UNHCR Representation has done and continues to do for the survival of the refugee population and the achievement of a viable solution to the crisis, but we regrettably note that we have never received a response to our communications or even an acknowledgment of receipt. In addition, a few of our efforts to contact via phone the Representation, either in Dhaka or Cox’s Bazar, ended up fruitless, since the officers that took our calls could hardly speak English (it is our understanding that most of the employees are Bangladeshi).
Considering the above, we have hereby decided to send all future communications to the UNHCR Headquarters, addressing Your Honour directly. Beginning from the present letter, we intend to communicate credible information that we receive as well as address important issues regarding the Rohingya refugee population, when deemed necessary. We sincerely hope that you these communications will reach Your Honour, or other competent officers, and they will be considered. Importantly, while recognizing the workload of the UNHCR, we hope that we will receive a response to our communications, at least in the form of an acknowledgment of receipt.
Undermining the status of registered refugees through the introduction of new food cards.
We assume that Your Honour is aware of this latest development in the refugee camps, namely that as of last June 2021, the authorities of Bangladesh decided to alter the cards through which registered Rohingya refugees receive food. The previous document contained each refugee’s MRC (Myanmar Rohingya Code), their fingerprint and head of family, and the designation “registered refugee”. The new card that refugees are provided, contains none of the above information, but most importantly the designation is changed to “forcibly displaced persons”. This card is identical or similar to the ones provided to the unregistered refugees who came after the summer of 2017. Receiving and demonstrating the new card has been set as an absolute requirement for the provision of rations.
Although seemingly a small matter, the Rohingyas consider this an unacceptable measure, with the intention and result of undermining their refugee status and stripping their rights and protections that emanate from it, contrary to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the 1967 Protocol and general international law. Considering the recent behaviour of the state of Bangladesh that manifests an intention for an urgent yet hasty solution to the refugee crisis, we fully side with the refugees as to the interpretation of this measure. If this and further changes to their status occur, we deeply fear that from a persecuted refugee population who survives on the minimum of living conditions, the Rohingyas will be rendered essentially sub-human; people that are not afforded the most basic of human rights and guarantees, as recognized by all states and international law since 1945; people that can be disposed of as livestock. Most certainly, we believe that the undermining of the Rohingyas’ refugee status is intended and is bound to result to a forced repatriation to Myanmar, without the indispensable guarantees for the respect of safety and prosperity of the Rohingyas.
Since the beginning of July, the entirety of registered Rohingya refugees in the camps of Nayapara and Kutupalong entered a “hunger strike” as a sign of protest, by which the refuse to receive the new document and by extension any rations. As a result, they have to use any miniscule funds that they have in order to purchase food supplies from the local market. Recently, we sent a donation in order to sustain the effort, and Aziz, alongside other activists, have organized funding campaigns among the refugees to create a pool of funds. It is unlikely that this hunger strike can last for long, due to the extremely limited resources available to the protesting refugees, with many of them understandably being on the verge of capitulating.
Unfortunately, the Bangladeshi authorities not only refrained from changing course in this matter but have actively intensified their forceful measures in cracking down the protest. Pursuant to the information we receive, very recently within the month of July, the authorities have extrajudicially killed seven refugee activists and continue to harass and threaten other activists who lead the strike. Moreover, on 24/07, the authorities arbitrarily arrested a group of four activists and has threatening them with charges for unrelated murders that occurred in the camps. As in previous occasions, which involved Aziz, his brothers and father among others, the four activists were released on the same day, upon paying a bribe of 6 thousand taka each. These constitute very serious incidents in clear violation of basic human rights, and we respectfully urge you to immediately take effective measures in stopping them and protecting the lives of the refugees and the activists amongst them. The Bangladeshi authorities shall be pressed to conduct a serious and impartial investigation into these murders and other violations, so that justice is restored, and future incidents of this nature are deterred.
We regrettably note that, both the UNHCR Representation and the WFP have stayed silent in relation to the introduction of the new food cards, even after the reaction by the refugees themselves. We will greatly appreciate, if you can respond to this letter by stating the UNHCR’s position on the matter and we respectfully urge the UNHCR to publicly oppose and denounce the undermining of the status of registered Rohingya refugees. We further call the UNHCR take measures so that the Bangladeshi authorities retract the new food cards and take no further measures that will endanger the refugee status of Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
We also note that, according to our information, many of the food supplies and other necessary items that the Bangladeshi authorities are required to provide and subsidised for by the UNHCR and the WFP, have long been omitted from the provisions to the Refugees. We further communicate our intention to formally report the abovementioned and several other misconducts, to the UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office.