Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Turkish soldier surveys the border line between Turkey and Syria near the city of Kilis, March 2, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Murad Sezer
(Brussels) – Turkish security forces have routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Turkish border guards have shot at asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey using smuggling routes, killing and wounding them, and have deported to Idlib newly arrived Syrians in the Turkish town of Antakya, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The Russian-Syrian military alliance’s December offensive against anti-government forces in Idlib has displaced almost 400,000 civilians, according to the UN. They have joined more than 1.3 million others trapped inside Idlib in insecure, overcrowded camps, and in makeshift camps in fields near the closed Turkish border where they are under constant threat of attack and lack food, clean water, shelter, health care, and aid. At a March 26, 2018 summit meeting in Bulgaria, the European Union should press Turkey to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection inside Turkey and pledge increased aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the region.

“As border guards try to seal the last remaining gaps in Turkey’s border, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trapped in fields to face the bombs on the Syrian side,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should press Turkey to open its border to those in need, and provide meaningful support, not silently stand by as Turkey ignores refugee law and pushes thousands back to face the carnage.”

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Border area where Turkish security forces regularly carry out mass deportations of Syrian asylum seekers.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
In response to these allegations, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) in Turkey’s Ministry of Interior provided Human Rights Watch with a lengthy statement, which said, in part, that “while maintaining the security of borders against terrorist organizations, Turkey continues to accept Syrians in need coming to the borders, and never opens fire on or uses violence against them.”

The DGGM said that it registered 510,448 Syrians coming through the designated border gates in 2017, and 91,866 so far in 2018, and provided them with temporary protection. As seen from the numbers, the DGMM statement said, “allegations suggesting that Syrians are not registered are not true.” It does not appear that Turkish authorities conducted an investigation into Human Rights Watch’s specific findings.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with 21 Syrians about their repeated failed attempts to cross into Turkey with smugglers. Eighteen of them said that intensified Russia-Syrian airstrikes in Deir al-Zour and in Idlib had repeatedly displaced them until they finally decided they had no option but to risk their lives and flee to Turkey.

Those interviewed described 137 incidents, almost all between mid-December and early March, in which Turkish border guards intercepted them just after they had crossed the border with smugglers. Human Rights Watch spoke with another 35 Syrians stuck in Idlib who had not tried to escape for fear of being shot by border guards.

Nine people also described 10 incidents between September and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to cross, killing 14 people, including 5 children, and injuring 18.

Civilians in Idlib have also been caught in the crossfire between Kurdish and Turkish forces during the offensive by Turkey in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in Syria, north of Idlib, which began on January 20.

In November, the United Nations refugee agency said in its latest country guidance on Syria that “all parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts” and therefore maintained its long-standing call on all countries “not to forcibly return Syrians.”

Syrians who tried to enter Turkey said they were intercepted after they crossed the Orontes River or near the internally displaced persons camp in al-Dureyya. They said Turkish border guards deported them along with hundreds, and at times thousands, of other Syrians they had intercepted. They said the guards forced them to return to Syrian territory at an informal crossing point at Hatya or across a small dam on the Orontes River known as the Friendship Bridge that aid agencies have used.

Human Rights Watch obtained satellite images of both crossing points and of four security posts with large tents set up on basketball courts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they were held before being sent back to Syria. 

The findings follow a February 3 Human Rights Watch report on Turkey’s border killings and summary pushbacks of asylum seekers between May and December 2017 and similar findings in November 2015 and May 2016.

In response to the February 3 report, a senior Turkish official repeated his government’s long-standing response to such reports, pointing out that Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch described its latest findings in a letter on March 15 to Turkey’s interior minister, requesting comment by March 21.

Turkey is hosting over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency. Turkey deserves credit and support for its generosity and is entitled to secure its border with Syria.

However, Turkey is also obliged to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This includes a prohibition on rejecting asylum seekers at borders that would expose them to such threats. Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on the use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity.

Turkey insists that it respects the principle of nonrefoulement. “Syrians are accepted and taken under protection in Turkey and Syrians who have entered into Turkey somehow and demand protection are definitely not sent back and the reception and registration procedures are carried out,” the DGMM’s statement in response to this report said. “Syrians coming to Turkey are under no circumstances forced to go back to their own country; their registration is continuing and these foreigners can benefit from many rights and services in Turkey.”

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Map of the Turkey-Syria Border.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch
As of December, Turkey had completed almost 800 kilometers of a planned 911-kilometer border barrier with Syria, which consists of a rocket-resistant concrete wall and steel fence. The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained of the area where Syrians say they crossed with smugglers shows areas without a wall.

Turkey’s continued refusal since at least mid-2015 to allow Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border legally has been reinforced by a controversial EU-Turkey March 2016 migration agreement to curb refugee and migration flows to the European Union. The EU should instead be working with Turkey to keep its borders open to refugees, providing financial support for Turkey’s refugee efforts, and sharing responsibility by stepping up resettlement of refugees from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.

“The EU should stop ignoring Turkey’s mass refugee deportations,” Simpson said. “The meeting in Bulgaria is a clear opportunity for the EU governments and institutions to change course and ramp up efforts to help Turkey protect Syrian refugees including through increased refugee resettlement.”

For more details about Turkey’s mass border pushbacks and the situation displaced Syrians face in Syria’s Idlib governorate, please see below.

Turkey’s land borders are legally protected by army border units of the Turkish Armed Forces. Gendarmerie also on duty at the borders operate under the authority of the land forces command. There are also gendarmerie stations near the borders charged with regular rural policing activities. This report refers to border guards without specifying if they are soldiers or gendarmes since many of those interviewed did not provide or do not have such specific information.

Regular Mass Pushbacks at the Turkish Border

Between February 14 and 20, Human Rights Watch interviewed the 21 Syrian asylum seekers who had tried multiple times to cross the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed them by cell phone and explained the purpose of the interviews and gave assurances of anonymity. We also received interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

They described 137 incidents – 107 of them between January 1 and March 6 – in which Turkish border guards intercepted them at the border near the Syrian town of Darkush and held them at nearby security posts and then deported them back to Syria with hundreds, and at times thousands, of others.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate who fled Syrian government attacks on his village in September 2017 said border guards intercepted him nine times in January and the first half of February in border areas close to the al-Dureyya displaced people’s camp in Syria.

Describing three incidents in February, he said:

Each time they insulted the men, calling them “Syrian traitors.” They forced some of them to collect firewood. Then they took all of us in military trucks to a basketball court at a security post near the Hatya border gate. There was also a big tent there. They put us all in the tent and kept us overnight. They didn’t give us any food or water or let us go to a proper toilet. There were so many in the tent, that we were spilling out into the open of the basketball court. We were hundreds of people. The next morning, they took us all back to the border in buses.

A Turkish security base about 250 meters from the Turkey-Syria border, 2 kilometres south of the Turkish village, Saribük. The base has a basketball court and large tent, as described in statements by deported Syrian asylum seekers who said they were held in such a location before being deported.

© 2018 Digital Globe
Three Syrians said they were deported with thousands of others. A man from al-Hamediyah who said Turkish border guards intercepted him 11 times between September and January said that he was usually deported with about 500 other people. However, he said that on one occasion, in January, the border guards gave the people they had intercepted trying to cross from Syria numbers and his was 3,890. He said he was one of the last to be put on buses and taken to the border.

Many people referred to two deportation points that they said were between 10 and 30 minutes’ drive from the security posts where border guards had held them: one was an informal border crossing at Hatya, and the other was a small dam on the Orontes River called “Friendship Bridge.” Human Rights Watch obtained satellite imagery of both crossing points and of four security posts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they crossed into Turkey.

A woman from Hama governorate who repeatedly tried to cross the border said she was deported six times during the first two weeks of February with groups she estimated to be between 50 and 600 other Syrians:

The second time, on around February 4, the border guards took us to a military post and put us in a big tent with 200 other people they had already caught. Four hours later, at about 8 a.m., they put us in large buses and drove us to the Friendship Bridge. There they told us to get out and walk across the river back into Syria.

The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained confirms there are gaps in the wall the full length of the Orontes River, west of the Syrian town of Salkeen, and at various points between the southern tip of where the river meets the border and the Hatya border crossing.

Deportations from Antakya

Three Syrians said Turkish police had deported them or relatives from the town of Antakya, about 20 kilometers west of the Syrian border.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate said:

I crossed the border at night with my wife and two daughters and about 20 other people in late December 2017 near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp. The border guards didn’t find us. The smugglers took us to their house in Antakya, about two hours’ drive away. There were 20 other Syrians already there and they told us they had also crossed from Syria that night. Not long after that, Turkish police arrived at the house. They took all of us to a police station and held us there until the next morning. They took our fingerprints and photos. Then they took all of us in police vans to the border at Bab al-Hawa and sent us back to Syria.

A man from Hama governorate described what happened to his wife:

The Turks sent my wife back from Antakya twice. She told me everything that happened. The first time was a week ago [about February 10]. The smugglers drove her and about 10 other people from the border near the Orontes River up to Reyhanli and from there they drove to Antakya. They reached the edge of Antakya at about 6 a.m. Turkish police shot at the car’s wheels to force it to stop. They beat the driver and immediately put my wife and the others in a police van and drove them to the border at Bab al-Hawa.

My wife crossed again four days later. The smugglers took her and about 10 others to a small house in a Turkish village near the border and then drove to a house in Antakya where there were already about 50 other Syrians who said they had arrived that night. Suddenly Turkish police arrived, at about 7 a.m. They wrote down their names and took photos. They put them in a big truck and took them to the Bab al-Hawa crossing. They held them there for the whole day and then sent them back to Syria.

Shootings by Border Guards

Nine Syrians interviewed described a total of 10 shooting incidents by Turkish border guards between September and March in which they said 14 people were killed and 18 injured.

In mid-February, a man from Deir al-Zour governorate said that in the previous five weeks he had tried four times to reach Turkey with his wife and five children. The first three times, he said, Turkish border guards deported them. The fourth time they turned back because Turkish border guards shot at their group as they approached the border:

A few hundred meters from the border near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp the Turks suddenly started shooting at our group. They killed an 8-year-old girl and injured two men, one in a leg and the other in the stomach. I helped the man shot in the stomach turn back with the rest of us while the others carried the girl and helped the other man. Later the smugglers told us that a 13-year-old girl in another group trying to cross at the next time had also been killed during the shooting.   

A man evacuated with his wife and baby from Aleppo in late 2016 said he unsuccessfully attempted to cross with them to Turkey three times near the al-Dureyya camp in September 2017 and January 2018 and was deported with hundreds of others the first two times. During the third attempt, in January, he said:

The border guards shot at us and injured my wife in her stomach and leg. She was pregnant and the baby died. They also injured two men and a 5-year-old boy, who was shot in the leg. We took my wife to a hospital in Syria near the border. Her heart stopped twice, but she lived. They couldn’t operate on her, so they sent her to Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa gate for surgery. They amputated her leg and removed her womb. They didn’t let me cross with her but a few days later a smuggler helped me and my daughter cross to Turkey.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with a doctor in a Syrian hospital near the Turkish border west of the town of Idlib who said that between August 1 and February 16, the hospital had received 66 people with gunshot-related injuries who said they had been shot while trying to cross the Turkish border.

Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis in Idlib governorate

According to the UN, about 2.65 million people are currently in Idlib governorate, over 1.75 million of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in Idlib or other parts of Syria, including almost 400,000 displaced since December. Civilians in Idlib have faced years of conflict. In September, Russian and Syrian forces began a fresh offensive in Idlib, three days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire and “de-escalation” zone in the province and parts of Hama and western Aleppo. Human Rights Watch documented that attacks in September struck markets and populated residential areas and caused thousands of people to flee to displacement sites near the Turkish border.

Hostilities in Idlib halted on October 8 after Turkey deployed monitors there, but restarted in late December. In January, the Russian-Syrian military alliance carried out airstrikes to support Syrian ground troops. Some attacks involved prohibited weapons and targeted hospitals.

The Atma displaced persons camp on the Syrian side of Turkey’s border wall, where on February 6, 2018, during an exchange of fire between Turkish and Kurdish forces, a shell hit killing a girl and injuring seven others.

© 2017 Reuters/Osman Orsal
On January 21, Turkey started a military offensive in Kurdish-held Afrin, also putting displaced civilians at risk. Turkish and Kurdish forces have shelled each other on either side of Syria’s Atma displacement camp, on the Turkish border, which shelters 60,000 people.

Witnesses said that on February 6, during the fighting, shells hit the camp, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven displaced Syrians about the incident. They all said it left their children terrified of the shelling and unable to sleep.

A father of seven children from Hama who lived close to where the shell landed on February 6 said:

I was there when it happened and rushed to help. I heard a young girl had been killed, but I only saw two who were injured. One had lost an arm and a leg and the other was blinded. I was so scared the same might happen to my children, we fled the camp and went to live in a field near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. But we couldn’t stay there all alone, without help, so we had to come back to the camp. We are all scared now, all the time.

A father of four children said the incident had so shaken his family, he had returned to his still conflict-riven home town of Kafr Zita in Hama governorate because all other displacement camps in Idlib were full. As his house had been destroyed, he said, he was living in a field on the edge of the town and struggling to survive: “There is still shelling here but if we die, it’s better to die at home.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke with five Syrians who had been repeatedly displaced in recent months within Idlib to escape the shifting front line and who, as of mid-February, were living as close as possible to the Turkish border in the hope of escaping the fighting.

The UN says that since December, the violence has displaced at least 385,000 people who have joined 2.65 million other civilians, including 1.35 million civilians displaced in the past few years.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed two aid officials working in Idlib governorate. One summarized the dire humanitarian situation:

There is no more room anywhere for people displaced in the past few months. Displacement camps are completely full and we [humanitarians] do not have the resources to properly address basic needs of water, food, heating, health care, and education. Rent has skyrocketed so people end up living in the tens of thousands on the edge of towns and villages in fields in makeshift camps. There is simply no way the aid agencies can help all these people. At best they can give very limited help once in a while to some of them, and it is not done in an organized way. There is suffering everywhere, in every camp and in every village.

The 56 displaced Syrians in Idlib that Human Rights Watch interviewed, including 42 displaced by the recent violence, all described the extremely difficult conditions they had faced in Idlib in previous months. The newly displaced said they had heard that displacement camps were completely full and that they could not afford to pay the extremely high rents in the towns and villages in the area. They ended up living in waterlogged fields across Idlib governorate, often with other families in makeshift tents made from sacks and other material sewed together, because they could not afford to buy proper tents.

They said they struggled to find food and had to pay high fees for water, delivered by trucks. They either had seen no one from an aid agency, or those who had, said they were unable to help or had promised help but hadn’t returned.

Turkish authorities have allowed Turkish and international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians in camps in border areas. Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid is important, but does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.

EU Silence

Human Rights Watch has documented that, since at least mid-August 2015, Turkish border guards enforcing the country’s March 2015 border closure have deported Syrians trying to reach Turkey. In April and May 2016, Human Rights Watch documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and sending those who managed to cross back to Syria. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further killings, injuries and pushbacks that happened in the second half of 2017.

On May 20, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on UN member states and UN agencies attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to press the Turkish authorities to reopen Turkey’s border to Syrian asylum seekers. But neither the European Commission nor any European Union member state – or any other country – has publicly pressed Turkey to do so, while UN agencies have also remained publicly silent.

The world’s – and in particular the EU’s – silence over Turkey’s breach of the cornerstone of international refugee law condones Turkey’s border abuses.

The EU’s failure to take in more Syrian asylum seekers and refugees also contributes to the pressure on Turkey. The EU should swiftly fulfill its own commitments to relocate Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and, together with other countries, it should also expand safe and legal channels for people to reach safety from Turkey, including through increased refugee resettlement, humanitarian admissions, humanitarian and other visas, and facilitated family reunification.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Erbil) – Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today.

Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad al-Asha'ri), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities. The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes.

“While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). 

In August 2016, the Salah al-Din governorate council passed a decree stating that anyone proven to have been complicit or affiliated with ISIS has no right to return to the governorate. The decree also orders the expulsion of immediate relatives of ISIS-members from Salah al-Din for 10 years to life, and says that they are only allowed to return if they are deemed “safe.” The decree establishes a committee to seize ISIS-affiliates’ property and suspend their, and their families,’ provision cards. Families that kill their ISIS-affiliated relatives, or hand them over to the Iraqi authorities, are exempted.

One woman from al-Shakrah village, three kilometers south of al-Shirqat, said that PMF fighters forced her and her relatives from their home on January 7, 2017, because her husband’s brother had joined ISIS. She said that the fighters “forced our whole family of 14 people out and onto the truck. They didn’t let us grab even a change of clothing.”

Two women from the village of al-Aithah said that local PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes with explosives after they retook the area on September 21, targeting not only some of the families they thought to be affiliated with ISIS, but also some families that had fled because of the fighting. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that between September 23 and October 23, 220 homes in the village were destroyed by explosives and fire.

Before and after satellite images Before and after satellite images

Satellite imagery shows the village of al-Aithah, outside Tikrit, Iraq, before and after the destruction caused by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). 

Before: © 2017 DigitalGlobe After: © 2017 DigitalGlobe

Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict may only attack military objectives. The intentional or wanton destruction of civilian property is unlawful unless the property is being used for a military purpose. Destroying property merely to punish the population is always prohibited.

Iraqi federal authorities should investigate any intentional destruction or looting of civilian property, punish those responsible – including those in command control at the time of such acts who failed to prevent the crimes – if abuses are found, and compensate victims, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch visited the Shahama camp for displaced people, 13 kilometres north of Tikrit, on February 3, to interview families affected by the decree. Hussein Ahmed Khalaf, the camp manager, said that 362 families were there, of whom 237 had fled Hawija, a city 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk that is still under ISIS control. Those families had arrived when the camp opened at the beginning of January.

He said that over the next month, 125 families from the al-Shirqat area were brought to the camp. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people forcibly displaced with their families to the camp. They all said that PMF fighters, in the presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with army vehicles, had forced them out of their homes. They said that they were prohibited from leaving the camp and from having mobile phones.

In a Salah al-Din news broadcast in January, Brigadier General Juma Enad Sadoon, the Salah al-Din operational commander for the ISF, said that he ordered the forced displacements of immediate relatives of ISIS members following the passage of the decree by the Salah al-Din governorate council. He said “ISIS families” were identified by other residents and through intelligence gathered by the security forces. He said he gave the order because of concerns about family members communicating with their ISIS relatives fighting in Mosul and other fronts and because of complaints from the relatives of victims of ISIS abuses. He said he would not stop displacing these families.

But most families who spoke to Human Rights Watch either denied they had a relative in ISIS or said that if they did, this family member was as distant as a cousin or brother-in-law.

Residents of Shahama camp speak with relatives through the camp fence. 

 

 

© 2017 Sami Hilali

On January 26, two videos were posted on a Facebook page covering news from Salah al-Din showing local PMF forces in al-Shirqat displacing families of ISIS suspects using army vehicles.

Both videos feature a female commander known as Um Hanadi of the local PMF of al-Shirqat known as the Group of Um Hanadi for Special Tasks (Tashkeel Um Hanadi La Mohmat al-Khasah). In one video, she and a group of armed forces are loading families they refer to as “ISIS families” onto at least two Iraqi army trucks with military license plates. The video shows at least two Iraqi military commanders, recognizable because of their red berets. One fighter and the cameraman identify themselves as members of the Iraqi military’s Division 17, Brigade 60. In the other video, Um Hanadi says to the camera, “It is an honor for me to clean and cleanse al-Shirqat with these elite forces.”

A New York Times article from January 29 about the camp quotes Salah al-Din’s deputy governor, Amar Hekmat, as saying that the aim behind the forcible displacement is, “to defy the terrorists and send a stern message to the families.” Salah al-Din’s First Deputy Governor Khazhal Hamad is quoted in the same article saying that displacing the families was a way of protecting them from retaliatory attacks by neighbors who lost family members to ISIS. “There are hostile feelings towards these people, and these feelings can affect the civil peace we are trying to achieve,” he said.

A February 28 response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ human rights office to Human Rights Watch’s findings stated that the displacement was carried out by the Salah al-Din operational command in order to protect the families from revenge attacks; for security reasons linked to continued suicide attacks; and because some of these families may be sharing information about ISF positions with ISIS. It stated that the operational command was mandated with holding and protecting the families in the camp. Representatives of the PMF did not respond to questions sent by Human Rights Watch.

The article goes on to say that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter in late January to the local governor criticizing the displacement and ordered governorate and federal government officials to resolve the issue. There was no indication he had called for the punishment of armed forces under his command that participated in it. Iraqi federal authorities including al-Abadi should continue to condemn the forcible displacement of these families and censure any state forces that participate in the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

Two of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Salah al-Din’s Governor Ahmad Abdullah al-Jabouri came to the camp in late January and told them that he was working on a solution to secure their release, but that nothing had happened since.

It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and can itself be a crime, especially if it results in forced displacement.

Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except in the limited cases when displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military necessity, and then only for as long as it is needed. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order such unlawful displacements of civilians during a conflict. Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organized group can amount to a crime against humanity.

Local governorate councils should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s parliament should issue a decree calling on the local governorate councils to rescind the decrees and on armed forces to cease the forced displacements, reiterating the unlawfulness of these displacements and stipulating that any armed forces who participate in the displacements should be censured.

“There is growing concern among parliamentarians and ministers about the forcible displacement of so-called ISIS families and what this will mean for reconciliation efforts in areas recently taken back from ISIS,” Fakih said. “That concern needs to translate into action before these destructive policies are mimicked across the country.”

Local Justifications for Displacement
Local leaders from Salah al-Din told Human Rights Watch that the forcible displacement of families of alleged ISIS affiliates was in line with jalwa, an Arabic term for eviction and a principle that entails the forced relocation of a clan to avoid friction if one of its members murders someone from another clan living in the same area.

Other local officials are taking similar measures to expel so-called “ISIS families.” In July, the Babylon governorate council passed a decree calling on authorities to demolish the homes of anyone proven to have participated in terrorist activities, deport their families from the governorate, and to authorize legal procedures against the families proven to have “concealed” their ISIS-affiliated relatives. Families from Anbar face similar difficulties. In July, local leaders issued a covenant saying that people who “promoted” ISIS are not allowed to return until their charges are reviewed. Individuals who did not renounce relatives who supported ISIS are only allowed to return home “when this situation stabilizes,” they said.

Identified with ISIS
Four of the 14 people Human Rights Watch interviewed were from al-Shakrah village and were brought to the Shahama camp on January 7 and January 26. Three were from al-Aithah village, 11 kilometers north of al-Shirqat, and were brought to the camp in early January. The rest were from three neighborhoods of the town of al-Shirqat and were brought to the camp on January 26, 28, and 29. Some were brought alone, while others said they were loaded into approximately 30 vehicles, some with up to 11 other families. Several said they had only the most tangential connections, or no connections at all, to people who had joined ISIS.

One couple said that their cousin, a member of Um Hanadi’s PMF group with whom they had a running land dispute for years, was the one that brought forces to their home and made them leave. They said they had no links to ISIS. Another woman said she was a nurse, and had continued her work at the local hospital under ISIS because she was the only female nurse and felt it was her duty to provide health care for women. Fighters brought her and her family to the camp, saying it was because she had been affiliated with ISIS, she said.

One widowed woman said that ISIS fighters forced her to marry off her 14-year-old daughter to one of their fighters after they took her village in 2014. According to the mother, the daughter married the fighter, who was subsequently killed, and gave birth weeks before she and the rest of her family were forcibly displaced. The woman said PMF and Iraqi soldiers displaced her and her family, including her daughter and grandchild, to the camp because of the forced marriage.

“They [the PMF] told me: ‘You gave your daughter to ISIS,’” she said. “But they do not understand our situation with ISIS and the pressure they put on us. We couldn’t say anything to them…I had no choice. I couldn’t say anything…ISIS became the government ruling over everyone. They’ve gone to war with every country. What could I do as a woman to oppose them?”

“As they drove us from al-Shirqat they were celebrating, it was like a victory for them,” said a man from the Jamia neighborhood. He said PMF and ISF jointly rounded up 28 people from his area and brought them to the camp on a convoy of dozens of cars, blaring celebratory music from their loudspeakers:

We saw all these cars and trucks suddenly pull up in our village, and I saw several Hashad fighters [PMF] knock on the door of my neighbors. Their son had been with ISIS. They forced them out immediately and into one of the trucks. Then came the knock at our door, and my mother-in-law opened and told the fighters that her son’s family, my husband’s brother, who had joined ISIS, lived down the road. They said to her, “But you are also related to him.”

Shahama Camp Conditions
Human Rights Watch observed that the families from Hawija and al-Shirqat in the Shahama camp are housed in tents in separate areas of the camp. The camp manager said that this was because of concerns over possible tensions between people who left Hawija voluntarily and those forcibly displaced from al-Shirqat over suspected family ties to ISIS suspects.

Shahama camp residents are not allowed to leave or to have mobile phones, and visitors are restricted. Residents at the camp from the initial wave of families from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that until the al-Shirqat families arrived they had been allowed to have phones, and leave the camp at will.

The camp receives assistance and support from four international aid organizations, but two aid workers said that most aid groups would not support a camp that is functioning as a holding site for forcibly displaced people, rather than a camp to which displaced people have gone voluntarily. Having visited about a dozen camps in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Human Rights Watch researchers observed significantly worse conditions in the Shahama camp than in the other camps it had visited. According to a senior aid worker and the camp manager, the camp has no clinic, no school, and lacks adequate sanitation services and food, water, and heating oil.

Destruction and Looting
A local sheikh from the village of al-Aithah interviewed in the Shahama camp said the PMF arrived three days after the Iraqi military retook the village from ISIS on September 19. Two women from the village said that the PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes. One said her home was included and the other that she witnessed the destruction:

I saw them destroying the houses. They would destroy around 15 homes a day. For about 15 days the destruction didn’t stop in the village. My house was not destroyed when the army came, but…lots of neighbors’ homes were destroyed by the PMF. It was the local PMF destroying the homes. I saw them and know them personally as being from the local PMF.

She said the PMF targeted the homes not only of some families thought to have links to ISIS, but also some of those who had simply fled the area out of fear.

Local residents said that as far as they were aware, there were no airstrikes on the village after it was retaken, so the destruction could not have been a result of aerial attacks, and there was seemingly no military necessity for the destruction, meaning it most likely constituted a war crime. “We want the Iraqi government to show mercy on these women and children,” one of the women said. “Don’t act like ISIS, by destroying homes and displacing families.”

Several members of the displaced families also said PMF members looted their property. One woman from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood in al-Shirqat said that the morning before she was displaced, PMF confiscated her cow without giving any reason. A man from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood and another from al-Shakrah village both said fighters took their cars. The rest of the interviewees said that because they did not have access to their phones, they did not know what had happened to their property since they left.

Detention
Seven people interviewed said that ISF had arrested one or more of their family members, in one case a 15-year-old boy, on suspicion of ISIS affiliation either at their homes or at a checkpoint in the area, some as early as August. Six had not heard from their relatives since and all of them said that because of the ban on phones, they were unable to make any calls to see if they were still in detention or had access to a lawyer.

One man from al-Shakrah said he had been detained by ISF at a checkpoint near Tikrit because his brother had been an ISIS member, and was beaten for a day with electric cables while guards asked him how he could have shared a home with an ISIS fighter. That night, he said, they transferred him to the Salah al-Din operations room, and then to a prison in Tikrit. A few weeks later he was taken before a judge and ordered released, after which he returned to al-Shakrah, he said. On January 7, he and his family were forced to relocate to the camp.

Another al-Shakrah villager said that on September 24, 2016, more than 15 Iraqi soldiers and PMF members who were in the village told all the men and boys ages 15 and over to gather at the local school to be screened:

I gathered there with my 15-year-old son, as we were told. A soldier called out three names of men from the village and detained them. Then about 20 fighters wearing PMF patches brought 10 more men with masked faces to us, and started pointing at people at random, while the ISF stood by and watched. The PMF took away the 14 men and one boy, my own son, whom they pointed at, loading them onto military trucks. One PMF fighter was filming the group of detainees on his phone as they waited to load the trucks, and ordered them to bark like dogs.

They brought his son back after 28 days. The family confirmed with Iraqi army officers that his son was not on a wanted list, but five days later, PMF came to the home with a masked man who said the boy was affiliated with ISIS and detained him again, the father said. The father said he has heard nothing from him since and that on January 7, local PMF members in the village came to their home and said they were an “ISIS family” and had to get onto the PMF trucks and go to the camp.

Iraqi federal authorities should make efforts to inform family members about the location of all detainees. Iraqi federal authorities should make public the number of fighters and civilians detained, including at checkpoints, screening sites, and camps during the conflict with ISIS, and the legal basis for their detention, including the charges against them. They should ensure prompt independent judicial review of detention and allow detainees access to lawyers and medical care and to communicate with their families, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After 25 years of vicious conflict that has cost countless lives and displaced millions of people, peace has finally broken out in south-central Somalia — at least that's what Kenya says. And the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined Kenya to tell the world it should now focus on helping as many refugees as possible to return home.

But I recently spoke with some of the estimated 320,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. And it's clear that peace is the last thing some of those signing up for UNHCR's $400 repatriation cash handout are discovering.

A newly arrived Somali refugee is forced out of the queue outside a reception centre in the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, July 28, 2011

© 2011 Reuters

A number of refugees told me they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees.

One of them is "Amina," a 38-year-old single mother. After a decade in Dadaab, she decided to try her luck and returned in January 2015 with her five children to her village, Bula Gudud, in the Lower Juba region, hoping to rebuild her life.

She told me: "After two days back home, fighting broke out between government troops and al-Shabab [armed Islamist group]. I could hear the bullets. My children were so scared. They just ran around, trying to get out of the house." The following day, Amina fled to the closest city, Kismayo. She had no relatives there but hoped she'd find safety and work to feed her children. She found neither.

She and her family barely survived for nine months with other displaced civilians in Kismayo's appalling internally displaced persons' camps. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and aid-starved camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab.

But her ordeal didn't end there. The Kenyan authorities have refused to re-register her and her children as refugees, and UNHCR has not reactivated her ration card or given her any food.

"If we send 1,000 people home under the voluntary repatriation agreement but we then register 1,000 new arrivals, we would not get the job done," a Kenyan government official in Dadaab told me

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the "voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees. It says that both countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home. A few months later UNHCR said that "the security situation in many parts of ... Somalia [is] volatile [and] protracted ... conflict has had devastating consequences, including massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order".

But Kenya has repeatedly referred to this agreement as evidence that it is time for all Somalis to go home, stressing that the UN agency should help Kenya "expedite" refugee repatriation.

Somali refugees have a collective memory of previous repeated attempts by Kenyan security forces to coerce "voluntary" returns. In late 2012, Kenyan police in Nairobi unleashed appalling abuses in an effort to enforce an illegal directive to drive tens of thousands of urban Somali refugees into the Dadaab camps and from there back to Somalia. In April 2014, Kenyan security forces, primarily police, carried out a second round of abuses against Somalis in Nairobi and then deported 359 a month later without allowing them to challenge their removal.

In May 2016, Kenya announced that "hosting refugees has to come to an end", that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically get refugee status and that the Department of Refugee Affairs, responsible for registering and screening individual asylum applications, would be disbanded.

So far, thankfully, the Kenyan police in Dadaab appear to have been acting properly and the refugees told us they had not been harassed or directly coerced. But they are all aware that the government intends to close the camp by the end of November. Everyone we spoke to expressed the fear that those who do not take the voluntary repatriation assistance package now will be forced back later this year with nothing.

Since mid-2015, Amina and at least another 4,000 Somali refugees have either returned to Kenya after facing conflict and hunger back home or fled to Dadaab for the first time.

But with refugee registrations now closed, Amina and the others won't get food aid. Their survival will depend on the kindness of neighbours or relatives whose own rations were slashed last year by a third because of a funding shortfall. Amina and other returnees and new arrivals will also be the first to face arrest and deportation for "illegal presence" if Kenya shuts down Dadaab in three months.

International and Kenyan law require the authorities to make sure that anyone seeking asylum in Kenya is fairly heard and, if found to need protection, gets it. As long as Kenya continues to shred its commitments, Amina and thousands of others like her will languish hungry and destitute in legal limbo and wake up every morning wondering whether they are about to be deported back to the dangers that many have repeatedly fled and still fear.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee program, monitors, investigates, and documents human rights abuses against refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, and advocates for the rights and humanitarian needs of all categories of forcibly displaced persons around the world.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Frelick directed Amnesty International USA's refugee program and the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), which he served for 18 years. He was the editor of USCR's annual World Refugee Survey and monthly Refugee Reports. Frelick has traveled to refugee sites throughout the world and is widely published. He taught in the Middle East from 1979-1983 and was co-coordinator of the Asian Center of Clergy and Laity Concerned from 1976-1979. Frelick has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

"I get depressed here. I want to go to a good school to study," said a bright, 12-year-old girl from Afghanistan, who's been stuck for six months in the grim Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. "If we don't study we won't have a future and we won't become successful."

Greece is denying thousands of asylum-seeking children their right to an education because of a European Union-backed migration policy that traps them on the Aegean islands.

The European Commission's humanitarian agency agrees: "education is crucial" for girls and boys affected by crises, and is "one of the best tools to invest in their long-term future."

So one might expect that the European Union would demand to see educational results for its money in Greece, where by some counts it has spent over $14,000 [€12,100] in aid for every migrant and asylum seeker.

One would be wrong, especially when it comes to asylum-seeking and migrant children stuck on the Aegean islands.

The importance of children having an education seems to have been trumped by a Greek government policy, backed by the EU, of keeping most asylum seekers who arrive by sea from Turkey confined to the islands until their asylum claims are adjudicated, rather than transferring them to the mainland where services are better.

Human Rights Watch research has found that on the Aegean islands, where at any given time there are more than 3,000 school-age asylum-seeking children, fewer than 400 are in school.

In Syria, which many of the refugees are fleeing, net primary school enrollment was 63 percent in 2013(the latest available figures), two years after the war erupted.

Greece has opened pre-school classes for some children in the government-run camps on the islands. But the other children in those camps – unlike children in camps on the mainland – have no access to formal education.

Overcrowded camps

The Greek education ministry has opened formal classes tailored to children who do not speak Greek and who have been out of school, but they serve only a small number who were allowed to leave the government camps for shelters or subsidised housing.

Right now the Greek authorities are trying to close a volunteer shelter that was the first on the islands to help asylum seeking children enrol in public schools.

The Greek government has claimed it is impractical to provide access to education to children in the island camps, since they are "on the move." In reality, new arrivals to the islands continue to outpace deportations to Turkey and transfers to the mainland.

Colleagues and I met children who had been stuck in the overcrowded, unsanitary, dangerous camps for up to 11 months without even the respite that going to school could provide.

Greek law makes education compulsory from ages five to 15 and provides that all children have the right to go to school, including asylum seekers without all their papers.

So it was welcome news in April 2018 when Greece's highest court ruled that there was no basis in law for containing new arrivals on the Aegean islands. But while the government has transferred over 10,000 people since November to the mainland, where there are more educational resources, it refused to implement the ruling and instead adopted a law to reinstate the policy.

Wishful thinking

The Greek ministry for migration policy has also played an opaque and at times unhelpful role, blocking the education ministry from opening more classes on the islands in 2017.

Education is critical to refugee children's ability to integrate and contribute in Europe. And investing in education more than pays for itself; every dollar spent on education reaps two in earnings and health benefits.

Despite all that EU money, Greece seems to do a worse job educating asylum seeker children than countries like Jordan and Turkey, which have lower gross national incomes per capita and vastly more refugee children, and enrolment rates above 60 percent.

By one count, enrollment in Greece was 55 percent – and that only counted the minority of children outside camps across the country, not the majority who are in camps.

Despite the wishful thinking of some European politicians, there is little prospect that most asylum-seeking children in Greece will go to Turkey any time soon. Greece faces a choice between squandering the talents and harming the integration and future of thousands of children or doing the right thing and making sure they can go to school.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Walkways on the steep slopes of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have been particularly treacherous. In May 2018, refugees in some places were starting to build stairs with handrails. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The world’s largest refugee camp, a densely packed agglomeration of bamboo and tarp huts with 626,000 people, sits near this town in Bangladesh. It expanded rapidly and haphazardly following an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar last August.

“Our entire village came together and settled on this spot,” said a 19-year-old refugee who arrived in September. “At first this was a jungle, but we cleared it. Now there are no trees.”

Monsoon season is here, and high winds and flooding are happening now. For months, the refugees have been busily shoring up their huts, but the camp remains vulnerable. More than 215,000 refugees in the Cox’s Bazar area are at risk of landslides and flooding, according to the U.N., with only about 21,000 having been relocated from highest-risk locations and 22,000 still at very high risk of landslides.

It is crucial to relocate the Rohingya refugees to places in Bangladesh with fewer environmental risks and adequate standards of services. But a proposed alternative by the authorities is likely far more dangerous.

The Bangladesh navy and Chinese construction crews have prepared Bhasan Char, an uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal, for the transfer of 100,000 refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area; the relocation is set to begin in September. In May, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reportedly said that because Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country, “measures are being taken for their temporary shelter in Bhasan Char. They’ll stay there until they are repatriated.”

Bhasan Char is not sustainable for human habitation and could be seriously affected by rising sea levels and storm surges. It most likely would have very limited access to education and health services, and extremely limited opportunities for livelihoods or self-sufficiency. It would unnecessarily isolate refugees. The Bangladeshi government has made no commitment to allow refugees’ freedom of movement in and out of the island. Moreover, refugees have not consented to move there.

As recently as 1999, Bhasan Char did not even exist. Formed by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River, the flat mangrove and grass island has been unstable and uninhabitable with a rapidly shifting shoreline for the past 20 yearsReuters reported in March that “nearby islands have a tidal range as high as six meters [19.7 feet], and a strong cyclone during a high tide would likely leave the entire island submerged, according to Golam Mahabub Sarwar of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Land.”

What is more, Bhasan Char is not the only option for relocation. According to experts who spoke with Human Rights Watch, there are six feasible relocation sites that could accommodate 263,000 people closer to the existing camp and within the containment area the government has designated to limit free movement of refugees. Although the risk of cyclones and storm surges remains in the coastal areas, these sites consist of scrubland in gentle slopes, which mitigates the risk of landslides.

The refugees I interviewed all expressed their preference to go back to Myanmar, but only when conditions allowed them to return voluntarily: citizenship, recognition of their Rohingya identity, justice for crimes committed against them, return of homes and property and assurances of security, peace and respect for their rights.

That is not going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, the Bangladeshi authorities should consult with the refugees and facilitate the voluntary relocation of those who want to leave the mega camp to smaller, less densely packed camps on flat, accessible land nearby. This offers the best prospect for maintaining a sustainable, dignified life until it is safe to go home.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

In late August and September 2017, Bangladesh welcomed the sudden influx of several hundred thousand Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. This followed an earlier wave of violence in October 2016, which forced over 80,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s respect for the principle of nonrefoulement is especially praiseworthy at a time when many other countries are building walls, pushing asylum seekers back at borders, and deporting people without adequately considering their protection claims. Currently, more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees are in the Cox’s Bazar area in Bangladesh’s southern tip. These consist of nearly 700,000 new arrivals on top of more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees already living in the area, having fled previous waves of persecution and repression in Myanmar. Bangladesh has continued to let in another 11,432 since the beginning of 2018 through the end of June 2018.

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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

While the burdens of dealing with this mass influx have mostly fallen on Bangladesh, responsibility for the crisis lies with Myanmar. The Myanmar military’s large-scale campaign of killings, rape, arson, and other abuses amounting to crimes against humanity caused the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. And Myanmar’s failure to take any meaningful actions to address either recent atrocities against the Rohingya or the decades-long discrimination and repression against the population is at the root of delays in refugee repatriation. Bangladesh’s handling of the refugee situation needs to be understood in the context of Myanmar’s responsibility for the crisis.

The Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp near the town of Cox’s Bazar, sometimes referred to as the “mega camp,” is now the world’s largest refugee camp. It was built quickly and haphazardly on a hilly jungle. “Our entire village came together and settled on this spot,” said Amanat Shah, 19, who arrived on September 2, 2017. “At first this was a jungle, but we cleared it. Now there are no trees.” His hut now sits on a densely packed, steep slope with almost no vegetation to keep the clay-sand mix under him from eroding or suddenly sliding away.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground. 

The imminent threat for Rohingya refugees is the likelihood that the Cox’s Bazar area will be hit by a cyclone or comparable high winds and storm-surge flooding. Throughout the Human Rights Watch May 2018 visit, refugees were busily shoring up their huts, construction crews were working to build safer locations to accommodate people, and first responders were conducting drills to mitigate disaster. Notwithstanding these efforts, the camps and their residents remain highly vulnerable to catastrophic weather events.

As of June 10, 2018, about 215,000 refugees in the Cox’s Bazar area were at risk of landslides and flooding, with 42,000 at highest risk, but only 19,500 had been relocated from highest risk locations, as of July 4. Evacuation plans in the event of a cyclone or other serious weather event were stymied by the government’s movement restrictions on the refugees and a lack of stable structures in which to evacuate people.

The mega camp is severely overcrowded. The average usable space per person is 10.7 square meters per person, whereas the recommended international standard for refugee camps is 45 square meters per person. Densely packed refugees are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, fires, community tensions, and domestic and sexual violence.

The Rohingyas’ identity as Myanmar nationals motivates their preference for repatriation so long as they are granted citizenship, provided security, and recognized as Rohingya. Both this and their reluctance to criticize their hosts has also made them hesitant to make demands on Bangladesh to improve their current living conditions. “Bangladesh is not my country,” said Kadir Ahmed, age 24. “I want to go back to our land. If the Myanmar government had not killed and tortured us, we would not have left.”

For a variety of reasons, including avoiding having refugees be an issue in upcoming national elections in late 2018, the Bangladeshi central government does not want to acknowledge publicly that the Rohingya refugees will not be repatriating anytime soon—and their stay could be prolonged. The authorities have resisted any efforts by international humanitarian and development agencies or by the refugees themselves to create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.

As a result, refugee children do not go to school, but rather to “temporary learning centers,” where “facilitators,” not “teachers,” preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day. Most classes are geared toward the pre-primary and early grades of primary school, and there are basically no educational offerings for adolescents or adults. Only one-quarter of school-aged children attend temporary learning centers, which means nearly 400,000 children and youth are not receiving a formal education.

Relocation elsewhere in Bangladesh to a location with fewer environmental risks and adequate standards of services is crucial for the health and well-being of the Rohingya refugees. However, this needs to be done with consultation and consent of the refugees to keep their displaced village communities intact and maintain contact with the broader Rohingya refugee community.

The Bangladesh navy and Chinese construction crews have prepared the as yet uninhabited island of Bhasan Char for the transfer of 100,000 refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area, and Bangladesh has indicated that transfers to the island will begin in September. However, the flat, mangrove and grass island, formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River, does not appear to be suitable for the accommodation of refugees. Experts predict that Bhasan Char could become completely submerged in the event of a strong cyclone during a high tide. In addition to Bhasan Char’s environmental failings, housing refugees there would unnecessarily isolate them, and if they were not allowed to leave, it would essentially become an island detention center.

Bhasan Char does not appear to be a suitable relocation site for refugees for a host of reasons: 1) it is not sustainable for human habitation; 2) it could be seriously affected by rising sea levels and storm surges; 3) it likely would have very limited education and health services; 4) it would provide extremely limited opportunities for livelihoods or self-sufficiency; 5) it would unnecessarily isolate refugees; 6) the Bangladeshi government has made no commitment to allow refugees’ freedom of movement in and from Bhasan Char; 7) it is far from the Myanmar border; and 8) the refugees have not consented to move there.

The Rohingya refugees who spoke to Human Rights Watch expressed gratitude to the people and government of Bangladesh. That goodwill could be squandered, however, if government security forces pressure refugees to go to Bhasan Char, putting their lives in danger.

Bhasan Char is not the only relocation option. There are six feasible relocation sites in Ukhiya subdistrict totaling more than 1,300 acres that could accommodate 263,000 people. These sites are situated in an eight kilometer stretch due west of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp between the mega camp and the coast. As such, these sites are within the containment area the government has designated to limit free movement of refugees.

Another challenge facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is the lack of recognized legal status, which puts them on precarious legal footing under domestic law. All the new arrivals are officially registered as “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals,” a designation that denies their refugee status and any rights attached to that status. This makes them more vulnerable to denial of freedom of movement, access to public services, education, and livelihoods, as well as to arrest and exploitation. However, as a party to core international human rights treaties, Bangladesh is nevertheless obligated to ensure all persons within its jurisdiction, including refugees, retain access to fundamental rights.

The refugees interviewed privately by Human Rights Watch all expressed their preference to go back to Myanmar, but only when conditions allowed them to return voluntarily: citizenship, recognition of their Rohingya identity, justice for crimes committed against them, return of homes and property, and assurances of security, peace and respect for rights.

“Creating a conducive environment for return rests with Myanmar, not here,” Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar-based refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told Human Rights Watch. “We cannot force them back.”

Although not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Bangladesh has upheld its customary international law obligation to keep the border open to fleeing Rohingya refugees and acted to accommodate and meet the humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing crimes against humanity. More than nine months since the crisis began, it remains an emergency situation, one not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Bangladesh to establish readily accessible, hard-structured cyclone shelters to enable evacuation of refugees in Kutupalong-Balukhali mega camp to safer areas. The authorities should relocate refugees from the mega camp to smaller, less densely packed camps on flat, accessible land in Ukhiya subdistrict. It should immediately terminate plans to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char unless and until independent experts determine that it is suitable for the accommodation of refugees, and until the government ensures that refugees who consent to relocate there will be allowed freedom of movement on and off the island. Bangladesh should register the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar as refugees, ensure access to adequate health care and education, and enable greater freedom of movement to engage in livelihood activities outside the camp.

The Myanmar government bears responsibility for the Rohingya refugee crisis and resolving it will necessitate fundamental and durable changes in Myanmar. The government will need to ensure full respect for returnees' human rights, equal access to nationality, and security among communities in Rakhine State as a precondition for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.

In the meantime, donor governments and inter-governmental organizations should be genuinely and robustly involved, both in supporting Bangladesh to meet the humanitarian needs of all Rohingya refugees – particularly by funding the humanitarian appeal for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis – but also by applying concerted and persistent pressure on Myanmar to meet all conditions necessary for safe, dignified, and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees.

 

Recommendations

To the Government of Bangladesh

  • Provide Rohingya refugees with legal status and documentation that recognizes their status as refugees.
  • Provide all children access to free and adequate education.
  • Respect the rights of refugees to freedom of movement and to a livelihood.
  • Take all feasible steps to ensure that humanitarian standards for Rohingya refugees, including population density for refugee camps, are consistent with those enumerated in the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (SPHERE standards).
  • Make available an additional 1,500 acres of flat, accessible land in Ukhiya subdistrict to decongest the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp.
  • Relocate more than 200,000 refugees who are most at risk from landslides and flooding to smaller, less densely packed camps.
  • Allow the construction of readily accessible, hard-structured cyclone shelters to enable evacuation of refugees in Kutupalong-Balukhali in the event of storm surges.
  • Terminate plans to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char unless and until independent experts determine that it is suitable for the accommodation of refugees, and until the government ensures that refugees who consent to relocate there will be allowed freedom of movement on and off the island.
  • Encourage and facilitate democratic governance structures within the camps that promote refugee consultation on services, relocation, repatriation, relief, and development and that give voice to women, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.
  • Engage refugees in environmental conservation, climate-mitigation activities, and infrastructure development that will benefit both the refugees and local host communities.
  • Ensure access to basic services for persons with disabilities, including equal access to food and non-food distributions, adequate medical care, including mental health care, counseling and psychosocial support; help children with disabilities access education.
  • Ensure persons with disabilities, including those with newly acquired disabilities due to the attacks in their home country, are explicitly identified as a high-risk population.
  • Continue to facilitate the work of international humanitarian and development organizations by avoiding onerous visa restrictions, project approvals, and other bureaucratic barriers.
  • Give UNHCR lead responsibility for coordinating the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh.
  • Ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions and enact legislation to implement them.
  • To allow outside scrutiny and generate trust among the refugee population, publish the memoranda of understanding (MOU) concerning data sharing and repatriation of Rohingya refugees signed with the government of Bangladesh and UNHCR.

To the Government of Myanmar

  • Respect the right of return for Rohingya refugees who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their former homes, lands, properties or places of habitual residence; they have the right to return to their place of residence or of choice and to the return of their property. Those unable or unwilling to return to their homes have the right to choose compensation from the government for the loss of all their homes and properties. Refugees who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their liberty, livelihoods, citizenship, family life, and identity also have the right to restitution.
  • Ensure that refugees freely seeking to return are verified in a fair and timely manner, and facilitate their return in a fair, safe, and orderly manner in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant parties.
  • Ensure full respect for returnees' human rights, equal access to nationality, and security among communities in Rakhine State as a precondition for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.
  • Allow unfettered access in Rakhine State for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, the media, diplomats, and rights observers, including to monitor the security of any returnees.
  • Close all internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Rakhine State in an orderly manner and, in cooperation with international partners, provide transitional security to enable voluntary returns in safety and dignity to places of origin or alternative locations chosen by the IDPs, while ensuring that returnees have access to services and livelihoods.
  • As recommended by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, ensure freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status, and that all communities have equal access to education, health, livelihood opportunities, and basic services.
  • Rescind the 1982 Citizenship Law or amend it in line with international standards: ensure the law is not inherently discriminatory, eliminate distinctions between different types of citizens, and use objective criteria to determine citizenship, such as descent, through which citizenship is passed through one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident.
  • In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, revise the Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingya children have the right to acquire a nationality where otherwise they would be stateless because they have no relevant links to another state. Until the Citizenship Law is rescinded or amended, interpret it, to the extent possible, in accordance with international obligations and standards on non-discrimination.
  • To allow outside scrutiny and generate trust among the refugee population, publish the memorandum of understanding (MOU) concerning the repatriation of Rohingya refugees signed by UNHCR together with UNDP and the government of Myanmar.

To Humanitarian Agencies

  • Refer to the Rohingya in Bangladesh as “refugees” to ensure they receive full refugee protections.
  • Ensure that humanitarian standards for Rohingya refugees are consistent with those enumerated in the SPHERE standards.
  • Urge the Bangladeshi government to give UNHCR lead responsibility for coordinating the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh.
  • Incorporate protection measures, targeted services, and staff training into all humanitarian assistance projects to meet the particular needs of refugees at risk, such as unaccompanied children, families traveling with young children, victims of human trafficking, people who have suffered or are at risk of gender-based violence (forced marriage, domestic abuse, etc.), women traveling on their own and female heads of household, pregnant and lactating mothers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, older people, and persons with disabilities.
  • Install lighting throughout camps, and especially in the areas of latrines and wash blocks, to mitigate sexual and gender-based violence and other harassment and criminality at night.
  • Ensure toilet and bathing facilities in camps are accessible for people with disabilities and adapted so they can use them while ensuring privacy and dignity.
  • Ensure alternative means of distribution and delivery of food for people with disabilities and other groups such as older people.
  • Advocate and work to establish and implement psycho-social support programs for refugees with mental health needs.

 

To the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

  • Implement the above recommendations to humanitarian agencies generally.
  • To allow outside scrutiny and generate trust among the refugee population, publish the two memoranda of understanding (MOU) concerning data sharing and repatriation of Rohingya refugees signed with the government of Bangladesh, and the MOU on repatriation that UNHCR and UNDP signed with Myanmar.
  • If repatriation operations commence, provide refugees with complete, objective, up-to-date and accurate information about conditions in prospective areas of return, including security conditions, and availability of assistance and protection to reintegrate in Myanmar. Do not promote or facilitate any “voluntary repatriation” operation that does not give refugees a genuine choice between staying or returning.
  • Together with government authorities and other humanitarian agencies, including the International Organization for Migration, work to replace the majhi system of block leaders in the camp with democratic governance structures to ensure proper consultation and representation of refugee wishes and complaints, as well as to reduce corruption and entrenched power structures that marginalize women and other groups.

 

To Donor Governments

  • Promptly provide assistance to help meet the needs of the Rohingya refugee population as outlined in the Joint Response Plan (JRP).
  • Call on the Bangladeshi government to give UNHCR lead responsibility for coordinating the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh.
  • Work with the Bangladeshi government, UN agencies, and NGOs to ensure that humanitarian standards for Rohingya refugees are consistent with those enumerated in the SPHERE standards.
  • Oppose the relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char and do not fund projects to develop the island as a refugee relocation site.
  • Promote the right of return for Rohingya refugees, but simultaneously insist on respect for the principle of nonrefoulement and that any repatriation of Rohingya refugees is based on fully informed consent, in accordance with international standards, and monitored and facilitated by UNHCR.
  • While recognizing the limits of third country resettlement, offer to resettle refugees from Bangladesh who are at specific risk or have relatives living in third countries who petition for family reunification.
  • Pressure the government of Myanmar to meet all conditions listed in the recommendations above that are necessary for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.
  • Urge the Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
  • Ensure implementing partners include people with disabilities in their humanitarian programming.
  • When providing new funding for infrastructure, stress that the infrastructure should be accessible for persons with disabilities and not create additional barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in their communities.

To ASEAN Member States

  • Acknowledge and respond to the Rohingya refugee situation as a regional problem that requires a comprehensive plan of action that provides support to Bangladesh and effective protection for Rohingya refugees through regional and extra-regional responsibility sharing.
  • Press Myanmar to meet all conditions necessary for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees, including ending the systematic persecution of the Rohingya population and holding accountable those responsible for grave crimes.
  • Consider a regional refugee resettlement plan, particularly focused on family reunification, for refugees with family members living in other countries in the region.
  • If a resurgence of Rohingya boat departures becomes evident, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand should not resume maritime pushbacks, as they have in the past, but rather muster search-and-rescue operations at sea, bring the boats ashore to the nearest safe port, provide humanitarian aid, and give full access to procedures for international protection in close coordination with UNHCR.

 

Methodology

In May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 31 Rohingya refugees in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp and the Leda Makeshift Settlement in Bangladesh who had mostly fled Myanmar since late 2017. We interviewed 18 male and 13 female refugees; two children (ages 10 and 16), 12 in the age range 19-29; five in their 30s; five in their 40s; four in their 50s; two in their 60s; and one in his 70s.

Unless stated otherwise, Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in the privacy of refugees’ own huts—either completely alone or with close family members present—with assurances of confidentiality. Human Rights Watch chose which refugees to interview based on the location of the hut and seeking a demographic balance among refugee subjects. Human Rights Watch told interview subjects that they would receive no payment, service, or other personal benefit for the interviews. All were told that they could decline to answer questions or could end the interview at any time.

The interviews were conducted in English by a Human Rights Watch researcher using two interpreters who translated from Rohingya to Bangla and Bangla to English. The interpreters pledged to respect confidentiality, but the fact that one interpreter was himself a refugee and the other a Bangladeshi national could have affected their candor. Refugees may also have been inhibited from speaking freely because of their lack of legal status in Bangladesh. Finally, because of the context and the fact that the interviewer and interpreters were all men, this study did not include research into sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, sex trafficking, and pregnancy/termination of pregnancy following rape.

Additional interviews and conversations were held with groups of refugees, with nongovernmental and UN humanitarian agencies, and diplomats of donor countries. We also interviewed the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar. To protect confidentiality, pseudonyms are used for all Rohingya refugee interview subjects, unless otherwise stated.

 

I. Background: A History of Hostility

Bangladesh promptly accepted the sudden and massive influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar that swelled in late August and September 2017. Bangladesh also received more than 80,000 Rohingya refugees from violence in Myanmar less than a year before. The number of Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh is more than 900,000 when added to the more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees already living in the Cox’s Bazar area from waves of persecution and violence prior to August 2017.[1]

Bangladesh’s openness toward Rohingya fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar contrasts with a history of neglect and rejection. In the past, successive Bangladeshi governments have not respected the fundamental rights of Rohingya refugees. In the 1970s, and again in the 1990s, the government carried out forced returns of Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar. In 1978, thousands of Rohingya refugees starved to death after Bangladeshi authorities reduced rations in camps to force refugees back.[2] In the 1990s, Bangladesh compelled Rohingya to “volunteer” to return and carried out several rounds of mass deportations, which stand among the darkest chapters in the history of the UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). [3]

Since the early 1990s, the Bangladeshi government refused to register at least 200,000 Rohingya refugees living mostly in the Ukhiya and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar district. It barred humanitarian agencies from assisting all but about 10 percent of the Rohingya refugees who were housed in the two official camps dating from the early 1990s. For many years, massive numbers of unregistered Rohingya refugees lived on the margins in Bangladesh without rights to secondary education, livelihoods, marriage, and freedom of movement, in what one UNHCR study said “mirrored” restrictions they lived under in Myanmar.[4] 

The Bangladeshi government’s negative attitude towards Rohingya asylum seekers and refugees continued after an outburst of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2012 led to large numbers of Rohingya attempting to enter Bangladesh.[5] The Bangladeshi government refused to allow the fleeing Rohingya to enter the country, and pushed them back to Myanmar.[6] Moreover, in an attempt to discourage more Rohingya from entering, the government ordered NGOs to stop providing services to Rohingya already in Bangladesh and blocked the resettlement of Rohingya to third countries.[7]

The decades-long involvement of UNHCR in Bangladesh has substantially impacted the work of international humanitarian agencies in the current crisis. For years, the Bangladeshi government had insisted that UNHCR’s mandate only covered the 29,000 to 34,000 registered “refugees” living in the two official refugee camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara, and that it had no right of access to the more than 200,000 displaced Rohingya “migrants” living in the same Cox’s Bazar area, many in makeshift camps alongside the official camps. [8] The government instead tasked the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which lacks a protection mandate, as the lead agency for providing humanitarian services for “undocumented Myanmar nationals.”[9]

A Rohingya boy looks down on the place where his hut washed away the day before in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign that began in late August 2017 makes for a clear-cut prima facie case for the Rohingya to receive refugee status based on a commonly shared well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of nationality, religion, and similar grounds. Under such circumstances, UNHCR is the only international organization mandated to protect and assist refugees. Yet, at the height of the influx in August and September, Bangladesh delayed delegating this responsibility to UNHCR, preferring to retain IOM as the lead agency, and continuing to treat all but the old, official refugee caseload as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” rather than refugees. [10]

 

II. An Ad Hoc Response to a Dangerous Situation

UNHCR, the most qualified and experienced UN agency to handle a refugee crisis of this magnitude, has been prevented from providing a coordinated response to the crisis that began in late 2017. This has led to serious repercussions. Although Bangladesh ceded a lead role to UNHCR in the protection sphere, other sectors that in the UN “cluster approach” usually place UNHCR in the lead, such as shelter and camp management, went to IOM, Caritas or the Danish Refugee Council.

More problematically, the authorities divided the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp operationally between UNHCR and IOM, giving UNHCR responsibility for the northern half and IOM the southern half. “IOM and UNHCR have pursued different approaches in their respective camps, leading both to inconsistency and delays in service delivery,” reads a May 2018 Refugees International report. “In practice, there is little clarity in the lines of reporting or ultimate accountability for what happens in the field…The result is a lack of consistency and adherence to quality standards across sectors.”[11] Because the government did not want to vest UNHCR with leadership of the humanitarian response, the UN response was to set up a Strategic Executive Group comprised of the heads of various agencies in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, to coordinate the response at the national level with an Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) headed by a senior coordinator in Cox’s Bazar. Despite laudable efforts from the various humanitarian actors, the lines of responsibility and accountability remain unresolved.

Placement of the Mega Camp: Topography

As the refugee crisis quickly unfolded, the Bangladesh government made available 4,800 acres of hilly, undeveloped forest land adjoining the relatively small, 1990s-era official Kutupalong Refugee Camp; the expansion site together with the original camp would soon become the world’s largest refugee camp, hosting more than 600,000 refugees.

A landslide in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on May 18, 2018 washed away a shelter housing 17 Rohingya refugees, all of whom were unharmed. The next day, shown here, refugees were working to put up a new hut on the same spot. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp sprung up with little regard to deforestation and its consequences. Much of the hilly site was jungle prior to its sudden habitation starting in late August 2017. “Our entire village came together and settled on this spot,” said Amanat Shah, 19, who arrived on September 2. “At first this was a jungle, but we cleared it. Now there are no trees.” His hut now sits on a densely packed steep slope with almost no vegetation to keep the clay-sand mix under him from eroding or suddenly sliding away, particularly during monsoon rains.

Population Density

At the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, many refugees are crammed into very little space. The UN Joint Response Plan (JRP) for March-December 2018 flatly declares: “Congestion is the core humanitarian and protection challenge.”[12] Besides the aggravating circumstances of topography and climate, refugees living in close proximity are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, fires, community tensions, and domestic and sexual violence.

The chart on the following page, based on drone imagery and field mapping conducted by UNHCR’s Site Planning unit, calculates population density based on usable land areas within the camps; non-usable areas are those prone to flooding and landslides.[13] As the chart shows, one of the camps (Camp 6) has as little as 0.63 square meter per person. Excluding Camp 20, which at the time of this chart had just expanded but not yet been populated with refugees being relocated from landslide-prone areas,[14] the average usable space per person in the rest of the original Kutupalong Camp and the expansion camps is 10.7 square meters per person. The SPHERE Handbook’s recommended minimum surface area is 45 square meters per person when planning a refugee camp (including kitchen and vegetable gardening space).[15] The actual surface area per person (excluding garden space) should not be less than 30 square meters per person.

The ISCG’s July 5 situation report notes that “the overarching challenge for the shelter response remains the lack of suitable land to decongest the camps and construct shelters which meet the SPHERE minimum standards, are capable of withstanding the climatic weather conditions and are adequate for meeting the protection needs of women and children.”[16] The US$136.6 million requirement for shelter and non-food items was only 14 percent funded at the time of the report, and the ISCG noted that “efforts to upgrade shelters continue to be hampered by delays in funding, project approvals for NGOs, and supply chain of shelter materials.”[17] 

Camp

Total Families

Total Individuals

Useable area (sqm)

% useable area

Average usable area per person (sqm)

Camp 6

5,754 24,712

15,549.13

4%

0.63

 

Camp 7

9,236

38,905

187,746.25

26%

4.83

Camp 18

6,807

27,832

215,867.55

29%

7.76

Camp 17

3,157

13,400

105,265.74

12%

7.86

Camp 8W

7,534

32,761

261,919.44

34%

7.99

Camp 10

8,003

34,429

275,403.52

56%

8.00

Camp 2E

6,823

28,450

231,810.44

60%

8.15

Camp 11

7,482

32,947

291,155.08

62%

8.84

Camp 3

9,098

39,165

370,579.30

81%

9.46

Camp 9

8,642

36,650

364,589.86

56%

9.95

Camp 2W

5,646

24,800

251,214.12

63%

10.13

Camp 1W

9,379

40,654

453,408.96

85%

11.15

Camp 4

7,452

30,313

358,275.42

32%

11.82

Camp 5

6,199

25,794

312,596.39

51%

12.12

Camp 8E

7,695

33,333

433,694.96

45%

13.01

Camp 13

9,586

40,911

566,311.36

76%

13.84

Camp 1E

9,166

39,815

608,228.12

96%

15.28

Camp 19

4,383

19,099

340,459.65

48%

17.83

Kutupalong RC*

3,778

18,877

340,824.72

89%

18.06

Camp 12

4,895

22,064

487,402.76

77%

22.09

                   

International guidelines recommend the average camp area should be 45 square meters per person, or minimally 30 square meters per person, excluding kitchen and garden space.

Climate

Bangladesh is hit by about 40 percent of the world’s total storm surges.[18] On average for the past 140 years, a cyclone has made landfall in Bangladesh about once a year, usually hitting in April-May during the early rainy season, or in October‐November during the late rainy season.[19] In 1991, Cyclone Gorky killed 139,000 people in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong. [20] 

Since that time, Bangladesh has taken preparedness measures, such as positioning of hard shelters and well-executed evacuation plans, and mortality rates have dropped dramatically. But the measures that Bangladesh has taken to protect its own citizens have not been extended to the primarily Rohingya refugee population in Cox’s Bazar. The most recent cyclone to hit Cox’s Bazar, Cyclone Mora in May 2017, damaged an estimated 70 percent of refugee huts and 80 percent of latrines in unofficial camps and makeshift settlements, and severely damaged 20 percent of huts in the official Kutupalong camp.[21] When Cyclone Mora struck, camp conditions were poor, but did not approach the congestion and topographical challenges now present in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp.

Fear of heavy rains and wind is universal in the camps. Tasmin, a mother of nine children, expressed her fears, saying she was unaware of a cyclone shelter to which her family could be evacuated or any plan for moving them to a safe location: “I am afraid about heavy rains. I don’t think this hut will withstand them. There is no plan to relocate us. There is no evacuation plan if a cyclone comes because there is no shelter to take us to.”[22]

Other refugees said they were aware of emergency evacuation plans, but they could not provide details about what they were supposed to do in the event of an emergency. “There is an evacuation plan,” said Noor Hakim, 46, a mother of nine. “They say when they raise a red flag we should go to another safe area, but I don’t know where that place is.”[23]

International Context

There are generally considered to be three durable solutions to any refugee situation: repatriation, local integration, or third-country resettlement. None of them appears to be feasible, even as a partial solution, for the Rohingya refugee crisis for the time being. Repatriation cannot happen until the Myanmar government undertakes fundamental, demonstrable and lasting reforms relating to the status and protection of the Rohingya, among other issues. Bangladesh rejects integrating the refugees, and its history with respect to registered and unregistered Rohingya refugees who have been living in protracted, abysmal conditions for decades is testament to that. Finally, third-country resettlement has only directly benefitted a small fraction of the world’s refugees. In the current political climate, opportunities for refugee resettlement are shrinking, particularly for Muslim refugees,[24] and the choice of which refugees to resettle is increasingly driven by migration management priorities, for example, as part of the migration deal between the European Union and Turkey.[25]

There is also a regional migration dimension to the Rohingya situation. Although few of the Rohingya refugees have taken to boats since 2017, for many years previously, Rohingya displacement has had a broader regional dimension. UNHCR estimates that between 2012 and 2015, about 112,500 Rohingya migrants and asylum seekers embarked on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.[26] Most of those who survived the journey, often in unseaworthy boats, disembarked in Malaysia, but others landed or ended up in Thailand, Indonesia, and even among the asylum seekers and refugees held on Australia’s offshore sites on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru.[27] The maritime dimension has not only expanded the scope of this refugee situation regionally, but has also triggered concerns about human trafficking, which remains a cause of fear and anxiety to many of the refugees living in the camps.[28]

Donor countries have neither provided significant resettlement nor fully funded the humanitarian appeals for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. As of this writing, the US$950.8 million appeal to meet humanitarian needs through the end of 2018 was only 26 percent funded, a shortfall of $701 million.[29] In interviews with Human Rights Watch, humanitarian workers in Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka lamented not only the steep falloff in donor response from the highly publicized emergency in 2017 when the appeal was 77-percent funded, but also the slowness of the 2018 response. “The main donors are holding back their funding,” a well-placed humanitarian official in Cox’s Bazar said. “They prefer to respond after a disaster has struck rather than funding to prevent a disaster from happening. Their thinking seems to be, ‘Why donate now when everything we put in will just get washed away.’”[30]

There is also the political dimension to the crisis. When the UN Security Council delegation visited the region in April 2018, including the mega camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the delegates she had called on the countries bordering Myanmar—China, India, Thailand, and Laos—to work together to pressure Myanmar and resolve the refugee issue.[31] The lack of any meaningful Security Council action following the delegation’s visit suggests the hopes that many Rohingya refugees are pinning on the international community to make their return possible are misplaced.

III. A Highly Traumatized Refugee Population

In general, the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh after August 25, 2017 have experienced high levels of trauma. Following the coordinated attacks on security force outposts in northern Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Myanmar military and other security forces, assisted by ethnic Rakhine militias, launched large-scale operations against the Rohingya population. Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch have consistently said they fled direct attacks on their villages. Human Rights Watch, the UN, other NGOs, and the media have documented numerous attacks on Rohingya villages involving massacres, killing, rape and other sexual violence, and mass arson.[32] Some Rohingya who fled were killed or maimed by landmines laid by soldiers on paths near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.[33] Satellite imagery showed that more than 362 primarily Rohingya villages were either substantially or completely destroyed.[34] Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had experienced security forces shooting on their village and witnessed killings and injuries; some were themselves wounded. Such traumatic experiences were still raw for many of the refugees in the interviews we conducted for this report.

Jamal, 28, from a village in Maungdaw Township, hid in a grove of mango trees when uniformed soldiers entered his village. At the time, his 21-year-old sister, Zuhara (her real name), was in labor, delivering a baby with the help of two midwives, Hasena (real name), 50, and Nawmena (real name), 22. From 300 feet away, Jamal said that he saw five or six soldiers drag his sister and the other two women out of the compound and slit their throats, killing the newborn as well: “I heard the screaming and watched them being slaughtered.”[35]

Yakub, 30, described killings from an army attack on his village in Rathedaung Township, in mid-September, providing Human Rights Watch with the names of four people he witnessed being killed as well as the names of two soldiers from a nearby base who carried out the killings. Because his village was surrounded by predominantly ethnic-Rakhine-populated villages, Yakub and other survivors did not leave the village immediately after the attack:

After that attack, I stayed one month and two days in my house. The army knew I was there. They said, “No problem, stay there.” But during that whole time, they were taking women from our village and bringing them to the base. They would keep the women there for four or five days and then return them, raped. My wife was pregnant at the time. The soldiers beat her and the baby was lost.[36]

Female-headed households are common in the refugee camps because of the deaths and disappearances of many men. Human Rights Watch visited 27-year-old Daula, living with her mother and seven children in a hut in Thainghali, Camp 17. She tearfully recounted the day, August 27, 2017, she fled her village in Rathedaung Township, “I watched from 15 to 20 feet away my husband being killed,” she said. “The army shot him and took away my father and sister. They are still missing. We don’t know their fate.”[37] 

Firuzaa, 20, remembers fleeing her village in Maungdaw Township. Her husband was carrying her one-year-old daughter, Yasmin, in his arms. One bullet struck his shoulder. Several hit Yasmin, killing her.[38]

 

IV. Refugees at Risk

Living conditions in the overcrowded, muddy mega camp are difficult, at best. However, many of the refugees that Human Rights Watch interviewed were reluctant to express any criticism of Bangladesh, their hosts, or suggest that conditions were better in Myanmar. Even refugees perched precariously on steep, sandy slopes with rain pouring down during the interviews, would say, “I feel safe,” when first asked. Their current views about their security need to be considered in the context of the situation from which they fled in Myanmar.

This tension at times revealed itself in interviews. Amir Hussein, 24, described how his 11-year-old daughter was shot multiple times as they escaped Myanmar, and Bangladeshi border guards rushed her to a hospital. His 23-year-old wife, Sameera, was silent as he told the harrowing story. When asked about life in the camp, Amir Hussein said, “I am satisfied with camp conditions.”[39]

At that point, Sameera could remain silent no longer:

There is no safe drinking water here. The toilets are terrible. I want to leave this place because it is not safe. I feel fear at night. I hear gunshots some nights. I am afraid there will be landslides here because we live on a steep slope. When it rains the water comes inside our hut, so we keep making barricades to keep the hut from being flooded, but it is only being held up by sandbags. I fear elephants. I saw them here. One elephant came to this area and killed a person. If any group offers to relocate us to a good, safe site, I would like to move.[40]

But even Sameera ended on a positive note: “Everything else is fine.” 

 

Natural Disaster

The looming threat over Rohingya refugees is the likelihood that the Cox’s Bazar region will be hit by a cyclone or comparable high winds and storm-surge flooding. In May, refugees were busily shoring up their huts, construction crews were working hard to build safer locations to accommodate people, and first responders were conducting drills to mitigate disaster. Notwithstanding these efforts, the camps remain highly vulnerable to catastrophic weather events.

Climate change has amplified these risks.[41] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[42] describes Bangladesh as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, “in terms of its exposure to extreme events and lack of capacity to cope and adapt.”[43] The IPCC warns, “South Asia’s climate is changing and the impacts are already being felt.”[44] 

During the reporting week of May 14-21, the ISCG reported more than 9,000 people affected by storms and landslides and more than 1,000 huts damaged.[45] The ISCG’s June 13, 2018 situation report estimated that 215,000 refugees in the Cox’s Bazar district were at risk of floods and landslides, of which 42,000 were at very high risk.[46] Its July 4, 2018 situation report said only 19,500 had been relocated from high-risk locations.[47]

In its April 2018 analysis of cyclone preparedness, NPM-ACAPS, an analysis unit for IOM, concluded, “There are no evacuation plans for the Rohingya population.”[48] It attributed the lack of evacuation plans to the government’s movement restrictions on the refugees, scarcity of land, and a lack of usable, stable structures in which to relocate people. Since that assessment, government authorities and humanitarian agencies have developed evacuation plans, but the impediments highlighted in April persist as worsening weather conditions made the need to implement them more likely.

Not only are the refugees living in flimsy bamboo and tarp huts, many of which are accessible only by foot on slippery, narrow, mud paths on steep hills, but their community structures are similarly unstable and insecure. A consequence of the Bangladeshi government’s resistance to any suggestion of permanence is that the “temporary learning centers” (TLCs) must be constructed using the same inadequate foundations and non-durable materials as residential huts. Normally in times of natural disaster, schools can serve as emergency community evacuation centers, but in this case the TLCs are as vulnerable as the huts surrounding them, with 350 of them at risk to flooding and landslides.[49]

Physical Security

In planning emergency settlements, the SPHERE Handbook states that due consideration should be given to potential tensions between refugees and the local population, and to security risks for women and girls, such as physical and sexual assault, domestic abuse, and trafficking.[50] Refugees who spoke to Human Rights Watch expressed fears relating to trafficking, missing children, and safety at night, but they were not able or willing to provide details of specific events they experienced or witnessed personally. Firuzaa, a 20-year-old woman in the Leda Makeshift Settlement, said:

I am afraid of thieves stealing our rice. Second, I am afraid when I go to the latrine at night. There have been incidents. Near another house here, local villagers came and tried to take a woman. It wasn’t me, but I’m afraid. I have two teenage sisters and I fear for them. There is a volunteer patrol. We didn’t have patrols earlier, but now they patrol. If they fail to maintain security, they call the police or army.[51]

As with refugees’ unwillingness or inability to provide names and details relating to abductions, they were similarly reluctant to discuss domestic or sexual abuse within the refugee community. Most women who spoke to us said, however, that they will not go out alone at night for fear of harassment or abduction, and refugees in both the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp and the Leda Makeshift Settlement said they had organized volunteer patrols with some assistance from the Bangladeshi security forces.

Hamida, 52, in Camp 11, provided a mostly positive assessment of camp security to Human Rights Watch. She said her principal problems are the quantity and quality of food and water, as she manages her personal security:

The latrine is not good and it is too far away. I have someone take me to the latrine if I have to go at night out of fear. We have volunteer patrols to keep order and the majhi [block leader] is good. Even though he is a man, women do have a voice.[52]

As with many other refugees we spoke to, she qualified her expression of fear about going out a night in the camp: “We are free and no longer live in fear in Bangladesh.”[53]

The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) and humanitarian agency officials working in the area told Human Rights Watch there are rising tensions between refugees and the local host community.

Despite these issues, refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they still felt supported by the local community and did not express concern about relations with local residents (beyond not being paid or otherwise being exploited by employers). “We are on good terms with the local people here,” said Ahammed Hashim, a 65-year-old man living in the Leda Makeshift Settlement. “Unlike Myanmar.”[54]

Nineteen Rohingya refugees have reportedly been murdered in the camps from December 2017 through June 2018.[55] In response to serious security incidents, including the June 18 murder of a community leader who was stabbed 25 times by a group of men in the middle of a busy pathway in the mega camp, Bangladeshi police have increased their presence in the camps. [56] The attacks have primarily been blamed on personal rivalries or criminal activity, but the murders of community leaders have led to suspicion that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army—a Rohingya militant group—might be responsible.[57] Media reports cited Cox’s Bazar Police Superintendent A.K.M. Iqbal Hossain as saying that a special force of 2,400 men was being formed to guard the camps.[58]

Dil Mohammed, 18, living in Thainghali camp, said he has not personally felt pressure to join gangs or armed groups:

There is a gang near the camp, but I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. It is a mix of Rohingya and Bangladeshi guys, but they are established people, not new arrivals. I am afraid of robbers and elephants. And I’m afraid that my children will be kidnapped. I have heard about robberies, but I have not been robbed myself. If there is a big crime, the Bangladesh police handle it, but for petty crimes, the majhis [block leaders] and volunteers solve the problem. The army here is good. We trust the Bangladesh army.[59]

The findings of Xchange’s May 2018 survey of more than 1,700 Rohingya refugees in 12 camps found that 99 percent of respondents said they felt safe during the day in the refugee camps and 96 percent said they felt safe at night. Of the 4 percent who said they did not feel safe at night, 80 percent were women, who listed their reasons for not feeling safe as: wild animals, particularly elephants; potential robbery; “murderers”; and human traffickers.[60]

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

Properly functioning water and sanitation systems are critical to the safe functioning of refugee camps from their inception. But this foundational infrastructure was flawed from the outset of the crisis by the lack of an adequately planned and coordinated emergency response. “Planning of the extension camps is largely absent and there is no infrastructure for good sanitation and drainage,” said Maya Vandenant, at the time chief of health for UNICEF Bangladesh. “We see that after the rains, water flushes the camps everywhere, including the toilets.”[61]

Not following international standards from the beginning has consequences as refugee camps consolidate. “The right to water and sanitation is inextricably related to other human rights, including the right to health, the right to housing and the right to adequate food,” says The SPHERE Handbook. “As such, it is part of the guarantees essential for human survival.”[62]

The hurried and haphazard construction of the Kutupalong-Balukhali mega camp meant that positioning of latrines, as well as their maintenance, has been problematic. The inadequate quantity and quality of latrines has heightened the risk for outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea and other disease. [63] A July 4, 2018 ISCG situation report said 6,594 latrines had been decommissioned and another 28,193 emptied “in the ongoing decommissioning and desludging exercise.”[64]

The limited number of toilets and poor maintenance of them was an often-expressed complaint to Human Rights Watch. Refugees’ frustration with the quantity and quality of toilets has been exacerbated by the alleged unresponsiveness of their block leaders to fixing the problem. “I told the majhi that the toilets are full, but he takes his time,” said Sayyid Salam, 40, a father of six living in Camp 16. “I have complained repeatedly, but they are still not fixed.”[65]

According to the SPHERE Handbook, latrines and other disposal systems must be at least 30 meters away from water sources.[66] The Joint Response Plan (JRP) for 2018 noted that latrines had been built too close to water sources, shelters, and steep slopes, and that many latrine pits did not maintain a minimum depth of five feet. The result was that 50 percent of samples of water at its source and 89 percent of household water samples were found to be contaminated.[67]

Nearly every refugee interviewed by Human Rights Watch put the lack of safe drinking water at the top of their list of living-condition problems. There is not enough water, people get sick after drinking it, and they have to walk long distances and stand in long queues to get it. “To get drinking water we have to go to the other side of the main road,” said Noor Haba, a 26-year-old mother of four. She claimed three or four people were struck and killed by cars while crossing the road to get water, but Human Rights Watch could not confirm the information.[68]

High levels of salinity and scarcity of potable water in the Teknaf subdistrict makes potable water there particularly scarce. In the Leda Makeshift Settlement, where water was being trucked in, it has become a source of increasing tension among the refugees and with the local host community. Firuzaa said, “We have problems with drinking water and sometimes people get into fights when queuing for water.”[69]

Despite the critical importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene to public health in a congested refugee camp, WASH is one of the most underfunded sectors in the humanitarian appeal. As of July 10, 2018, the WASH sector was 11.3 percent funded, with only $15.4 million received and a funding gap of $121.3 million.[70]

Food and Fuel

Lack of food was one of the most common complaints among refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch. “I need more food,” said Osman, 18. “The rice, dahl, and oil are not sufficient. We need meat and fish.”[71] The Xchange survey of more than 1,700 refugees in 16 camps similarly found that 66 percent of all respondents said they did not have sufficient food, water, and firewood for their households.[72] 

UNHCR’s April 2018 survey of refugees’ priority needs in 29 camps and settlements in Ukhiya and Teknaf, including all the subcamps within the mega camp, showed food to be the top priority need as expressed by the refugees in most camps. In 21 of the 29 camps surveyed, 50 percent or more respondents listed food as their priority need, and in seven of those camps, more than 70 percent of respondents said food was their priority need.[73] 

Closely related to the lack of nutritious food beyond the basic ration was the lack of income to buy food. The ISCG reported in July it had only reached 35 percent of the 350,000 people it had targeted for cash/in-kind livelihoods support.[74]

The need for food is also inextricably linked to the need for cooking fuel. So far, the fuel most commonly used in the camps for cooking is firewood. Even when families have enough food, a lack of fuel can make it impossible to cook the rice and lentils they receive as rations. Kadir Ahmed, 24, living in a small hut on steep, sandy slope in Camp 9 with his wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and four children, said the shortage of fuel was his biggest problem:

We sell our rice to purchase firewood. Sometimes we burn dried leaves. We are not allowed to gather firewood outside the camp. There are nearly no trees out there in any case. They have all already been cut.[75]

Gathering firewood outside the camp can be dangerous for children. Firuzaa said, “I send the children out to gather firewood, but if the Forestry Department catches them, they hit them and threaten them with knives.”[76]

Like WASH, food has proven to be at the bottom of donors’ giving list. While the whole JRP appeal was only 26 percent funded in early July 2018, the food sector was only 20 percent funded—US$48.3 million received halfway through the year, with a gap of $192.6 million.[77]

Health

The Bangladeshi government and humanitarian agencies have worked hard, and, for the most part, successfully, to vaccinate refugees and prevent outbreaks of disease, but despite efforts to contain the outbreak of diphtheria, 8,000 cases were reported, as of July 4, 2018.[78] With the rainy season, the risk of water-borne disease becomes significantly higher. Heavy rains pose a particular challenge to a precarious water and sanitation system and the risk of contaminated water is an urgent public health concern.

Healthcare providers have so far prioritized prevention of epidemic outbreaks of infectious disease, but the response remains reactive and ad hoc. The baseline assessment in the UN’s Joint Response Plan for March-December 2018 for providing access to health services to prevent and respond to diseases with epidemic potential said, “There is no standardized system in place at this time.”[79]

When the May 2018 Xchange survey asked 1,700 camp residents to list the three most difficult aspects of life in Bangladesh for themselves and their family, the top response, expressed by 70 percent of the respondents, was “health issues.”[80] 

Poor water and unsanitary conditions put populations at high risk of health problems. “Our biggest problem is the lack of safe drinking water,” said Tasmin, a 42-year-old mother of nine in Camp 2W:

The children have gotten diarrhea and other sicknesses from impure water. Our health conditions are deteriorating. I feel weak. We have gone to clinics when we get sick and received medicine. When I take the medicine I feel better, but then I get sick again.[81]

Rohingya women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch in September 2017 reported extremely low access to sexual and reproductive health care in Myanmar. Restrictions on freedom of movement were also extended to women in obstructed labor, sometimes with deadly results.[82] Access to sexual and reproductive health care, including to “menstrual regulation,” safe abortion care in the first trimester of pregnancy (which is legal in Bangladesh for all women and survivors of sexual violence) and other forms of basic health care have been limited in the mega camp.[83] There were some improvements reported by health NGOs in mid-2018, but Bangladeshi government staff have been slow to issue work permits and permission for some programs, stymying access to basic sexual and reproductive health care for women and girls.[84] 

There is a near absence of psycho-social support for refugees experiencing psychological harm, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health conditions. “Mental health is one of the biggest, yet most neglected, needs in the camps,” said Lynn van Beek, humanitarian affairs officer for Médecins Sans Frontières. “The trauma from Myanmar is compounded by the stresses here.”[85]

Human Rights Watch has documented Myanmar security force use of gang rape and other forms of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls as part of the 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign.[86] Sexual violence, including the use of rape targeting an ethnic group or other population, often leads to physical and serious mental health complications for survivors, including: post-traumatic stress disorder, complex trauma, anxiety, or depression.[87] In 2017, severe crowding in the limited medical facilities in Bangladesh together with stigma and a lack of knowledge about how to access assistance obstructed Rohingya rape survivors from getting medical care. Increased outreach, including in the form of individual case management and the establishment of women-friendly centers, has improved the situation, but NGOs believe many survivors are still not accessing long-term trauma care and other key assistance.[88] 

Older Refugees and Refugees with Disabilities

Everyone in the camp has trouble navigating the steep and slippery footpaths that are often the only way to move in and out of their huts. For people with disabilities, daily life in the camps is treacherous and accessibility to meet basic needs badly compromised.

Rohingya woman seeking medical attention for her child at the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Yasmin, orphaned at 16, showed Human Rights Watch the bullet that was removed from her buttocks. She was shot fleeing her village, and her sisters carried her to Bangladesh where she was treated for her wounds. Yasmin said she has ongoing problems but cannot afford medicines and has been given no assistance to support her mobility. Although she qualifies on several grounds for the registration category of “extremely vulnerable individual,” Yasmin said she had received no specific services or aid on account of her disability or because she is an orphaned minor who only has the support of her sisters:

It is very difficult to walk in the camp. I can’t move around by myself. I don’t have a cane. I need to lean on my sisters to walk. My hut is very small and has no bathroom, so I need my sister to take me to the bathroom at night. The drinking water supply is very distant from my hut. I have a registration card, but I don’t know anything about “vulnerability.” I don’t get any different food or assistance than anyone else. I need medicine, but I have no money, so I don’t get any. Three times NGOs have come to my hut to interview me, but they haven’t given me any support. I don’t go to school. I don’t have an education. I am unable to go to school because of my injury.[89]

Yasmin also fears what will happen to her when the rainy season gets worse: “Our hut is not strong. When a strong wind or rain comes, a water channel forms right next to my hut.”[90]

Kahimullah, age 70 and partially blind with respiratory problems and difficulty walking, is not receiving any specialized services or assistance. He and his wife live on a steep incline in a tiny hut next to a fecal sludge pond. Despite living in a dreadful and dangerous place and the multiple disabilities that make it difficult for him to access services, Kahimullah said, “This is not my land. I am thankful to Bangladesh. This is enough for me.” He added:

I feel danger where I live, but I have no other options. If strong winds and rain come, maybe someone will come to help us. There is a bad smell here and we have lots of mosquitos. I have a donated mosquito net, but it is not sufficient. The toilets are not clean. Because I am blind, I can’t go outside. I can’t get food rations, I have no money for fish or meat. I am dependent on humanitarian relief.[91]

“Because I am blind, I can’t go outside. I can’t get food rations, I have no money for fish or meat. I am dependent on humanitarian relief,” says a 70-year-old refugee in Kutupalong- Balukhali Expansion Camp, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Distant and inaccessible latrines and toilets were the most common complaint from older people and people with disabilities. Arefa, a 60-year-old woman with hypertension who Human Rights Watch visited as she was lying on the floor of her hut with an IV bottle dripping into her arm, said, “I need help to move. There is no latrine or toilet nearby. I am not able to walk by myself. I need someone to help me to walk.”[92]

Challenging on another level are people with intellectual and psychological disabilities, which may not be recognized at all, and, even if recognized, have no course of support or treatment, which was also lacking in Myanmar. Hamida, 52, said her 14-year-old son has had an intellectual disability since birth. She said he saw a traditional healer in Myanmar who tried magic on him, but he has never had an evaluation from a medical professional, treatment, or needed care. “When we were registered as refugees here in the camps, I don’t remember anyone noting his disability. There is no program for him here. He does not go to the learning center.”[93]

Walkways on the steep slopes of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have been particularly treacherous. In May 2018, refugees in some places were starting to build stairs with handrails. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Bangladesh ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol in 2008. Under article 11 of the CRPD, Bangladesh is responsible for ensuring the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies, and natural disasters.[94]

 

V. Legal Protection: Respect for Refugee Rights

The Bangladesh government has shown strong respect for the principle of nonrefoulement since the current Rohingya crisis began in late 2017. At a time when many other countries are building walls, pushing asylum seekers back at borders, and deporting people without adequately considering their protection claims, Bangladesh has essentially adhered to its customary international law obligation to keep the border open while several hundred thousand Rohingya refugees crossed without inspection over a short period of time. The government has continued to let in another 11,432 since the beginning of 2018 through the end of June 2018.[95] Moreover, UNHCR has not recorded a single instance of refoulement during this crisis, and none of the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they felt under any pressure to repatriate.

Most refugees who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they encountered no difficulty crossing into Bangladesh. A few said that they were stopped during the daytime, but just crossed the same night. Kahimullah said he spent several days in the no-man’s land at the Tombru crossing, but that Bangladesh border guards finally facilitated his entry into the country:

We walked for four days before crossing to Bangladesh and spent another three days in the no-man’s land at the Tombru checkpoint. At that time the Bangladesh border guards stopped us at the zero point, but then they let us go forward. Many other people entered at the same time as me. The Bangladesh authorities gave us food rations.[96]

Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol.[97] The country lacks domestic refugee law and has not acknowledged in law that refugees have rights. With the exception of 33,788 registered refugees who arrived in the early 1990s and have lived in two official camps, the original Kutupalong Refugee Camp, housing 14,129, and Nayapura Refugee Camp, in the Teknaf area, housing 19,659,[98] the rest of the refugees are officially registered as “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals,” a designation that denies them refugee status and any legal rights that would attach to that status.[99]

As it has done with the refugees in the two official camps, Bangladesh should register the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar as refugees. The evidence supporting their claim to refugee status is overwhelming: the Myanmar’s government widespread and systematic campaign of killing, rape, arson, and other grave abuses, which amount to crimes against humanity, and its violations of fundamental human rights against the Rohingya.[100] Beyond the latest atrocities is the longstanding repression of the Rohingya population by successive military and civilian governments in Myanmar. Central is the effective denial of citizenship for Rohingya, many whose families have lived in Myanmar for generations. This, along with repeated confiscation or invalidation of personal documents, has facilitated the creation of the world’s largest stateless population. For decades the Rohingya have been subjected to official restrictions on movement; limitations on access to health care, livelihood, shelter, and education; and arbitrary arrests and detention.[101]

Without a recognized legal status, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are on a precarious legal footing under domestic law. Without refugee status, they can be denied freedom of movement, access to public services such as education and health care, and access to livelihoods, leaving them vulnerable to arrest and exploitation. Bangladesh, however, is party to the core international human rights treaties, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[102] The provisions of these treaties largely apply to “everyone” or “all persons,” not just citizens or people with refugee or other immigration status. They protect the rights to freedom of movement, education, highest attainable standard of health, and to a livelihood, among others.

Freedom of Movement

The Bangladeshi government confines Rohingya refugees to the Ukhiya and Teknaf subdistricts. At least 27 army and police checkpoints have been established on the roads of the Cox’s Bazar district, in part, to prevent the refugees from moving into the town of Cox’s Bazar.[103] “I tried to leave two times,” said Suleman, 35, a father of four in camp 16, “but the army stopped and tested me, asking me to speak Bangla and to show a Bangladesh ID, which I don’t have. They were polite, they did not ask for bribes.”[104]

Osman said he made four attempts to leave the restricted area around the camps and was turned back twice by local residents. He said he succeeded in leaving when he paid police at a checkpoint a 200 taka (US$2.40) bribe, and was turned back another time after a policeman at the Morisha checkpoint hit him with a stick:

There were five of us. We had sold some of our cooking oil in return for transport. The police asked for money, but we didn’t have any, so they sent us back to the camps. One policeman asked each of us to pay 500 taka [$5.90] and he would let us pass. He hit me two times on the outside of my thigh with a wooden stick which was about an inch in diameter. It was more to push and intimidate than to hurt me. This policeman hit all five of us the same way. He hit us because we lied at first when he asked us if we were Rohingya. One policeman hit us, and the others watched.[105]

Under international human rights law, Bangladeshi authorities may only limit the movement of people in Bangladesh—citizens and non-citizens alike—if these restrictions are “provided by law…and necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.[106] In addition, these restrictions must be non-discriminatory, in accordance with national law, and be “necessary” to achieve one or more legitimate aims. Any such restrictions on a person’s free movement must be proportionate in relation to the aim sought to be achieved by the restriction, that is, carefully balanced against the specific reason for the restriction being put in place.[107]

The Bangladesh Constitution guarantees free movement to every citizen, subject to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest.”[108] While this does not apply to non-citizens like the Rohingya, Bangladesh still needs to comply with international law in its restrictions on their free movement. The basis for restricting the free movement of Rohingya under Bangladeshi law appears to be the Foreigners Act of 1946, which allows the government to order that any “foreigner”—defined as any non-citizen—be required to “reside in a particular place.”[109]

Two aspects of the Foreigners Act raise issues concerning its consistency with international law. First, it does not require that a restriction be necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights or freedoms of others. A person or group of persons can be restricted to a particular place seemingly for any reason. Second, an order to restrict movement can be applied to “any prescribed class or description of foreigner.”[110] This opens the door for the discriminatory application of the law to particular ethnic groups, like the Rohingya. As well as these concerns, the decision behind the order restricting all Rohingya movement does not appear to have assessed the proportionality of such a move or assessed the necessity of the order on an individualized basis.

Trees on steep hillsides were cut down to make way for temporary huts when the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp was hurriedly built in late 2017 in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. During monsoon season in 2018, some of those huts were washed away in landslides. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

At Bangladesh’s May 2018 Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, the head of the Bangladeshi delegation said the refugee influx was having a negative impact on Cox’s Bazar, which necessitated limiting the free movement of Rohingya refugees. He said Rohingya refugees were double the local population, which caused price hikes on basic goods and other strains: “The local people, unable to use their land for cultivation, lose out to the Rohingyas in the labor market affected by lower wages accepted by the Rohingyas. Municipal services in the Cox’s Bazar area has been unavailable to locals since the influx adding more sufferings.”[111] These broad-based and opened-ended grounds for confining Rohingya refugees to the camps do not meet the standards of necessity, legitimacy, and proportionality set out in international law for restricting the right of free movement.

Even though they are now living in poor, overcrowded conditions with restrictions on their rights to move and work, many refugees said that they had comparatively fewer restrictions than in Myanmar. “In Myanmar there were restrictions on freedom of movement,” said Dil Nawaz, a 25-year-old mother of an infant whose husband is missing in Myanmar, of the restrictions on her freedom of movement that have always been part of her life. “In Bangladesh I can go nearby. In Myanmar I could not go as far as I can here.”

 

VI. Repatriation: Obstacles to the Right of Return

On November 23, 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State” on behalf of “residents of Rakhine State” who crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh after the events of October 9, 2016 and August 25, 2017. Neither UNHCR nor the Rohingya refugees themselves were consulted in the drafting of the agreement. The agreement makes no reference to the campaign of killingsrape, and mass arson carried out by Myanmar security forces which caused the forced displacement. It also does not identify the displaced either as Rohingya or as refugees. It established a wholly unrealistic and later abandoned timeline for returns that were to commence two months after the agreement was signed.[112]

In February 2018, Bangladesh presented Myanmar with a list of 8,032 refugees to verify as Myanmar nationals for repatriation. Bangladesh had simply culled the names at random from its registration rolls without first consulting with the refugees on the list to confirm their willingness to return or to have their names and other details shared with Myanmar officials. “The names on the list we prepared were not chosen because they particularly wanted to go back,” Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, told Human Rights Watch. He said that Myanmar had verified 878 names on the list as residents, but that “we have not begun the process of voluntary repatriation for this group.”[113]

Refugees interviewed privately by Human Rights Watch all expressed their preference to go back to Myanmar but described the conditions that needed to be met before they would return voluntarily: Myanmar citizenship, recognition of their Rohingya identity, justice for crimes committed against them, return of homes and property, and assurances of peace and respect for their rights. Osman said:

If Myanmar gives us citizenship and recognizes our Rohingya identity we will return. We also want the return of our land and property. We want security and justice and to be treated equally with the other religions. I would like to go back, but I need the return of my home, property, and citizenship rights. The international community should also maintain peace in our homeland.[114]

An Xchange survey of more than 1,700 Rohingya refugees in 12 camps who arrived after August 25, 2017 found that 98 percent of respondents said they would consider returning to Myanmar, but almost all said they would go back only if certain conditions were met, with the majority mentioning Myanmar citizenship with acknowledgement that they are Rohingya, freedom of movement and religion, and the restoration of their rights and dignity.[115]

The Rohingya’s identity as nationals of Myanmar motivates their preference for repatriation as well as conditioning their return on being granted citizenship and recognized as Rohingya. It is also reflected in their reluctance to make demands on Bangladesh to improve their current living conditions. “Bangladesh is not my country,” said Kadir Ahmed. “I want to go back to our land. If the Myanmar government had not killed and tortured us, we would not have left.”[116]

Refugee Commissioner Kalam summarized the situation in an interview with Human Rights Watch: “The dependent variable for the return of refugees is the redress of issues like citizenship, freedom of movement, and maintaining Rohingya identity. Unless these issues are addressed there can be no safe and voluntary repatriation.”[117]

Kalam said “two glaring examples” have given him pause in thinking the situation in Myanmar could be conducive to return. The first, he said, is Myanmar’s stance toward the 6,000 Rohingya in the “no-man’s land” at the border of the two countries; the second, Myanmar’s poor treatment of about 120,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in central Rakhine State. The IDP population has been confined to camps since the outbreak of violence in 2012.

At the time of the Human Rights Watch visit, megaphones from the Myanmar side of the no-man’s land, also known as “the zero line,” were blasting threats to the displaced people huddling there, telling them they had to leave the zone and enter Bangladesh.[118] The people remaining in the no-man’s land have been unwilling, so far, to cross into Bangladesh.

As to the largely Rohingya population in the IDP camps, which also includes a smaller non-Rohingya Muslim population, the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State’s report said they were “confined” in IDP camps in Rakhine State where “living conditions…remain poor, with overcrowded shelters and inadequate access to services and livelihood opportunities.”[119]

“Creating a conducive environment for return rests with Myanmar, not here,” Kalam said. “And we cannot force them back.”

Myanmar state media reported on January 15, 2018 that three camps would be created in Maungdaw Township to process and house returning refugees. Two camps in Taung Pyo Letwe and Nga Khu Ya would be used to process refugees, while a camp in Hla Po Khaung would accommodate returning refugees.[120] Myanmar state media published photos of wooden buildings in Taung Pyo Letwe with high, barbed wire perimeter fences.[121]

As with the confinement of Rohingya IDPs after the 2012 anti-Rohingya violence in Rakhine State, any similar camps for refugee returnees would invariably limit basic rights, segregate them from the rest of the population and exacerbate ethnic and religious discrimination. Such camps could become permanent and act as a barrier for returning refugees to reconstruct their homes, work their land, regain livelihoods, and reintegrate into Myanmar society.

In addition to meeting the basic preconditions for return, safe and voluntary repatriation would need to be facilitated and monitored by UNHCR and other international observers. The Myanmar government has largely rejected international recommendations to allow free access for aid agencies, the media, and human rights monitors, only allowing a few humanitarian groups to deliver aid in northern Rakhine State and denying access to independent journalists and rights monitors.

Especially when it rains, eroded gullies and lack of steps and handrails make for treacherous walking in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

“The construction of infrastructure to support the logistics of return is important but should not be confused with the establishment of conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation,” the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, told the UN Security Council on February 13, 2018:

Conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. The causes of their flight have not been addressed, and we have yet to see substantive progress on addressing the exclusion and denial of rights that has deepened in recent decades, rooted in their lack of citizenship. But preserving the right of return and pursuing the conditions that will enable it to be exercised must remain a central priority.[122]

On June 6, 2018, UNHCR and the UN Development Program (UNDP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of Myanmar, but, like two related MOUs signed between UNHCR and the government of Bangladesh,[123] the parties declined to make it publicly available. The office of the UN secretary-general characterized the UNHCR/UNDP MOU with Myanmar as addressing “the UN system’s support to creating conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable Rohingya refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in Rakhine State,” but cautioned that “these conditions are not yet in place” and welcomed the MOU as a “first step to address the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine.”[124] Even with the secretary-general’s assurances, the lack of transparency regarding the drafting and final terms of the MOU raises serious concerns about its provisions and does not engender trust for refugees anxious about their futures.

 

VI. Where to Move the Refugees?

Bangladeshi Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told Human Rights Watch the authorities were working to relocate refugees to safer areas adjacent to the camps. Human Rights Watch saw some of the new areas that were being prepared. He said 20,000 refugees had already been relocated to safer areas and another 20,000 would be moved in the next few months. However, more than 10 times that number of refugees are living in dangerous landslide and flood-prone areas and need to be relocated. Kalam said even moving this relatively modest number was met with resistance from refugees. “It is very difficult to relocate people,” he said. “Despite repeated dissemination of information, they don’t know the conditions in the places of relocation. They are risk averse and displacement averse.”[125]

Many of the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch who were living in dangerous areas expressed reservations about being relocated. “Our hut is not strong, and I am afraid of strong winds and heavy rains,” said Sayyid Salam, 40, who lives on a precarious slope in Camp 16. While pointing out “there are already landslides happening here” and “seven families near here have lost their home because of landslides,” he remains wary of relocation for fear it would mean separation from the neighbors from his village. “We are familiar with this area, so we are afraid of being relocated. If there is a good and peaceful place, then we would relocate, otherwise, no. I would not go alone. They need to take everyone living here.[126]

The refugees frequently expressed great anxiety about being separated from their neighbors who are their main source of personal security, material and emotional support, and their strongest link to their homeland. Sumbul Rizvi, the senior coordinator of the ISCG, said, “Relocation, which is necessary, will need to be done in a way that maintains these displaced village communities intact to the degree possible, and with assurances that they will not be isolated from the broader Rohingya refugee community.”[127]

Those who already lost their huts in landslides were more receptive to the idea of relocation, and in some cases were demanding it. Nobi Hassan, 48, was sitting in his hut in Camp 11 on May 17 when the earth underneath him started to slide downhill. None of the 17 people living in the hut at the time were hurt, but it was destroyed; another 15 nearby huts were also damaged or destroyed. Hassan told Human Rights Watch he wanted to be relocated to a safer area, but his block leader gave him no choice but to rebuild on the very spot where his hut had just been washed away: “I want to move to a safer location. I talked to the majhi but he told me I could only search for a place to put a new hut in this block. But this block is already full. I don’t know what to do.”[128]

Other refugees said they would like to relocate—but only as members of intact communities. They said no one had offered them the option or asked their opinion. Noor Haba lives in a hut on a steep slope in camp 16 that was only accessible via a slippery muddy path:

I live in fear of landslides. I keep putting sandbags next to our hut to keep it from sliding down the hill. I would like to relocate to a safer place. I think about it all the time. No one has talked to me or offered relocation. I haven’t talked to anyone about it. But we stay together as a village, so we would all need to relocate together.[129]

At present, the refugees with whom we spoke did not particularly see decongesting the Kutupalong-Balukhali mega camp as a priority concern. Overcrowding by itself was not a significant complaint. “We have no problem living closely together,” said Sayyid Salam. “We know each other from our village. We live peacefully even though we live much closer together than we did in Myanmar.”[130]

The Bangladesh authorities recently made available another 500 acres of land adjacent to the northwest corner of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp. However, most of that land was not safely habitable. At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, UNHCR was working to prepare 123 acres for habitation, and the area was being dubbed “Camp 123” for this reason. IOM was assessing the suitability of another 50 acres of that land for relocating people from overcrowded, landslide-prone areas. IOM was also preparing zone “W.W.,” an expanded Camp 20, as a possible relocation site. However, refugees living in an overcrowded part of the camp, even in highly dangerous places prone to landslides, were resistant to moving to places that had little infrastructure, less accessibility to drinking water and services, and at greater distance from their communities. Kadir Ahmed, who lives in a precariously situated hut on a steep, sandy slope in Camp 9 with his wife, mother-in-law, and four children, expressed anxiety about moving again from a known place to an unknown location:

I feel afraid, but we live here with our people. New locations are too far from here. I hear that the new W.W. zone has robbers and elephants. I have no capacity to choose another place to live. It is as God wills it.[131]

Flat areas, too, have dangers. The Leda Makeshift Settlement near Teknaf lies on a flood plain, and refugees living there do not feel safe. “I am afraid of rain and floods,” said Firuzaa. “I would relocate to a safer place if it was a good place.” But Firuzaa would only go if her neighbors joined her. “When we came from Myanmar, many people were separated from their families, many were ill. We don’t want to be separated again.”[132]

Bhasan Char

According to Reuters, the Bangladesh navy and Chinese construction crews from the Sinohydro firm,[133] have prepared the uninhabited island of Bhasan Char for the transfer of 100,000 refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area, [134] but plans to transfer the refugees have reportedly been delayed until September.[135] The British engineering and environmental hydraulics consultancy HR Wallingford has also been advising the project on coastal stabilization and flood protection measures.[136]

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been a major proponent of moving refugees to Bhasan Char. In a May 24, 2018 meeting with the executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) she reportedly said Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country and the upcoming monsoon may cause the Rohingya enormous suffering: “So, measures are being taken for their temporary shelter in Bhasan Char. They’ll stay there until they are repatriated.”[137]

Her statement raised two major concerns. First, recognizing that Bangladesh is indeed disaster prone, the choice of Bhasan Char as a safe temporary shelter is highly questionable. As recently as 1999, Bhasan Char did not even exist. Formed by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River, the flat, mangrove, and grass island has been unstable and uninhabitable with a rapidly shifting shoreline for the past 20 years.[138] “Nearby islands have a tidal range as high as 6 meters,” Golam Mahabub Sarwar, an expert on climate change and sea levels in Bangladesh’s Land Ministry, told Reuters. “A strong cyclone during a high tide would likely leave the entire island submerged.”[139] 

Second, taking the position that “they’ll stay there until they are repatriated” suggests once transferred to the island, the only way off will be a one-way ticket to Myanmar. This essentially would make Bhasan Char the equivalent of an immigration detention center with the prospect of refugees being indefinitely restricted to a potentially dangerous and unsustainable island.

Prior to briefing humanitarian agencies on its plans for Bhasan Char, the government had not consulted with UNHCR or permitted it to visit the island. UNHCR said it and other actors would need to conduct “thorough and independent technical and protection assessments” of the safety, habitability, and protection implications of transporting and housing 100,000 refugees, which must precede any relocation.[140] 

UNHCR said refugees would need to make free and informed decisions on relocation, saying, “they should not be forced to choose between only relocation to Bhasan Char or repatriation to Myanmar, as this would render any such relocation or repatriation involuntary and, in the case of repatriation, violate the principle of non-refoulement.”[141]

So far, the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch had only heard rumors about Bhasan Char. From what they have heard of it though, they generally were not interested in going there. This was true even among those living in fear of landslides, such as Noor Haba, who told Human Rights Watch that she is in constant fear of landslides and preoccupied with thoughts of relocation:

I heard about this island, but I don’t want to go there. I want to stay close to my country. I do not want to go some distance away to an isolated island, and I heard it is still subject to flooding, so why would I go from a landslide area to a flood area?[142]

Refugees who have been wrenchingly displaced from their homes are understandably reluctant to move again, even farther away. “For the moment,” said Mohib Bullah, the refugee leader of the Arakan Society for Peace and Human Rights, a local group comprised of Rohingya refugees, “nobody wants to go to this place.”[143]

While the Rohingya refugees in the camps continued to express gratitude to the

Bangladesh government and its people, that goodwill could be squandered if government security forces pressure or forcibly send refugees to Bhasan Char. The move to Bhasan Char not only might place the lives of transferred refugees in danger but could generate lasting distrust and anger between the refugees and their Bangladeshi hosts.[144]

Accessible and Relatively Safe Land in Ukhiya Subdistrict

Bhasan Char is not the only, or best, option for relocation. According to experts who spoke with Human Rights Watch, there are six feasible relocation sites in Ukhiya subdistrict totaling more than 1,300 acres that could accommodate 263,000 people.[145] These sites are situated in an eight-kilometer stretch, due west of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, between it and the coast. As such, they are within the containment area the government has designated to limit free movement of refugees. Two of the sites are within two kilometers of the main coastal road; one would need an access road of four kilometers to reach the coastal road, and three of the sites are more than six kilometers from the coastal road.

Most importantly, the sites are comprised of scrubland with gentle slopes of an average of 3 to 5 degrees. Only one of the sites is close to an existing community settlement. A couple of the sites include streams, so would need to be further assessed for flooding risk, and all would need to be assessed with regard to potential elephant pathways. As with all coastal areas in this region, there would still be a risk of cyclone and storm surges in these locations, but the risk of landslides would be mitigated, and construction of smaller camps could be carefully planned with due regard to environmental impact, storm mitigation, and infrastructure development.

Site of a landslide in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in May 2018 in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The next day, the refugees began constructing a new hut—in the right foreground—where their former hut had washed away. They had asked permission to relocate to a safer place, but the local authority told them they had to stay in the same overcrowded block, where no other place was available. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The sites range in size from 199 to 242 acres and each could accommodate from 40,000 to 49,000 people. On average, this would provide 20 square meters per person, still less than half of the global minimal standard of 45 square meters per person, but a vast improvement over the 10.7 square meters per person, on average, in the mega camp.

These six sites are close enough to the mega camp that refugees could easily be taken on go-and-see visits to the sites before agreeing to move there. The distance would allow refugees to maintain community ties and to move between the mega camp and the new smaller ones; and, of great importance to the refugees, they would still be relatively close to the border with Myanmar to maintain their aspirations for return.

Outside Ukhiya subdistrict, to which refugees are restricted, there are other potentially suitable areas for relocation if the Bangladeshi government would be willing to lift or expand the area of movement restriction for Rohingya refugees. These include locations in Chakaria and Ramu subdistricts, north of Cox’s Bazar, and the district of Bandarbans.

 

VII. Beyond the Present Emergency, Looking Forward

For a variety of reasons, including the government’s desire to avoid having refugees be an issue in upcoming national elections in late 2018, the Bangladeshi government is reluctant to acknowledge publicly the reality that the Rohingya refugees will not be repatriating anytime soon—and that they may well remain in Bangladesh for a prolonged stay. For this reason, the authorities have been resistant to any efforts by international humanitarian and development agencies or by the refugees themselves to create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency and to continue to maintain that this is a temporary crisis and the refugees will soon go home.

Bangladesh also has an interest in not letting Myanmar get away with having deported its Rohingya minority, discouraging the remaining Rohingya population in Myanmar from leaving, pushing the international community to increase pressure on Myanmar to create conditions conducive to refugee repatriation, and, finally, reversing the ethnic cleansing and fulfilling the refugees’ right of return with justice and restitution.

The very placement and structure of the Kutupalong-Balukhali mega camp is predicated on its temporariness. It is not sustainable, and efforts to make it more livable have been actively discouraged. Basher, 30, told Human Rights Watch that after first arriving he tried to make a wooden house for his family from the trees the refugees were cutting to make room for the camp:

The Forestry Department came and tore down our house. The forestry official said to me, “This is our land. Why did you build a house here?” Then, they destroyed my house. Then UNHCR came with bamboo and we built this one in the same place.[146]

NGOs the government regards as providing emergency services are generally welcomed, while others whose mandates go beyond emergency humanitarian interventions are often challenged by the authorities and have a tougher time getting visas and permission to work in the camps. They also face restrictions on programs and even on what building and reinforcing materials they can use for shelters and facilities.

Education

Education is one of the most contentious issues between Bangladeshi authorities and the humanitarian agencies. NGOs have worked with the government to create “temporary learning centers” (TLCs), rather than “schools,” where “facilitators,” not “teachers,” preside over the classrooms because from the government’s perspective a school with a teacher suggests permanency. While temporary learning centers in the emergency phase are not inherently inappropriate, the building of such centers is lagging, and, as of early May, only one-third of needed learning spaces had been established.[147]

The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day. Most classes are geared toward the pre-primary and early grades of primary school, and there are basically no educational offerings for adolescents or adults. Only one-quarter of school-aged children attend temporary learning centers, which means nearly 400,000 children and youth are not receiving a formal education.[148] Fewer than 2,000 people over the age of 14 are being provided any kind of secondary education or life-skills training.[149] None of the education offered to refugees in the camps and settlements is accredited; no certificate or document recognizes academic achievement.

The authorities are also highly resistant to any curriculum that implies their integration in Bangladesh. This means no instruction in the Bangla language, despite the obvious benefits of learning the language of the local host community, or using its educational curriculum. At the same time, the Myanmar government refuses to allow humanitarian groups to use the Myanmar-language curriculum in the refugee camps.[150] The Rohingya language doesn’t have a widely used written script.

In the absence of an approved curriculum for the temporary learning centers, NGOs proposed in early 2018 a “learning framework,” which as of mid-May was still awaiting approval from the Bangladeshi government.[151] Consequently, classroom facilitators spend much of their time teaching children a few rhyming songs in basic English. Foreign visitors to the camps can expect to be surrounded by hordes of children asking the singsong question, “How are you today?”

Some refugees are well aware of the limited educational offerings in the learning centers. Sameera, a mother of three, saw a drop in the progress of her children’s education since coming to Bangladesh:

Our girls go the learning center. In this area, it is not a school at all, but more of a play center. In Myanmar my children were in grade 4, but here they spend their time painting and drawing, like pre-primary. We want our children to continue with the Myanmar school curriculum because we want to go back to Myanmar.[152]

But parents’ assessment of the quality of the learning centers seems to depend on how they view education relative to what they had in Myanmar; for some, that was none. “In Myanmar our children did not go to school, so here the learning center is better,” said Gaffer, a 25-year-old father of three. “This is the first education my daughter has had.”[153]

A survey of more than 1,700 Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazar region conducted by Xchange found that only one-third of respondents had received any education in Myanmar.[154] The Xchange survey finding is consistent with that of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which noted that primary school enrollment and completion rates in Rakhine State were among the lowest in Myanmar and that adult illiteracy in Rakhine State was 50 percent above the national average.[155]

Three of Sayyid Salam’s children attended the camp learning center. He said the level of education was better than what they had in Myanmar, but it was still poor. His proposed solution reflected a keen understanding of the challenges:

The government is very opposed to education because they think it will make us want to stay here permanently. There are not enough teachers. I understand there is also a poor level of education for the local Bangladeshi children. It would be good to have programs that would raise the level of education for both the refugee and local children.[156]

The level of education currently provided to Rohingya refugees does not meet Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) states that governments must recognize the right of everyone to education, including that primary education shall be compulsory and free to all.[157] Children with disabilities and older children should also have equal access to education.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the independent expert committee that provides authoritative guidance on the ICESCR, has observed that “[t]he obligation to provide primary education for all is an immediate duty of all States parties.”[158] In addition, states are obligated to provide everyone access to public educational institutions on a non-discriminatory basis.[159] The committee has reaffirmed, in line with the non-discrimination requirements in article 2, that nationality is not a legitimate ground upon which to deny access to a right, including a child’s right to education.[160] The committee specifically outlined within that requirement the right of asylum seekers and refugees to education.[161] While the committee acknowledges the ICESCR may provide developing countries like Bangladesh an exception to providing education to non-nationals, it affirms each state should recognize the right of each child to education regardless of their status.[162]

Bangladesh is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which similarly affirms a child’s right to education.[163] In a General Comment issued jointly with the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asserted that, irrespective of their status, all children shall have full access to education at all levels on the basis of equality with nationals of the country in which they are living.[164] The non-discrimination principle of the CRC means that asylum seekers and refugee children are entitled to all rights in the CRC,[165] including access to “quality and inclusive” education.[166]

Livelihoods

All of the able refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed said they wanted to work, particularly to earn money to subsidize the food rations of rice, lentils, and oil to enable a more varied and nutritious diet. However, refugees are officially barred from working, even though there are modest 300-taka-per-day cash-for-work programs in the camps. “Inside the camp, there are no job opportunities,” said Suleman, 35, a father of four in camp 16. “Outside the camp, the army does not allow us to seek work.” 

Because of the unavailability of work and the scarcity of firewood and water, children who should be joining the learning centers or spending time in the child-friendly spaces are instead tasked by their families with collecting firewood, standing in line for aid distribution, and fetching water. “My 14-year-old son does not go to school,” said Suleman. “He works in a bakery where he earns 100 taka [$1.20] per day. I need that money for the family.”[167]

Some refugees manage to work with local contractors but complain about being exploited, sometimes not receiving payment at all after completing a job. Osman said work is scarce and very low paying. “I only had three days of work this month digging ditches for 300 takas [$3.60] for a day’s work.” He said when he did find steadier work with a local contractor, he was cheated out of being paid at all. “I worked for two months digging wells for one contractor and wasn’t paid anything.”[168]

Dil Nawaz, whose husband was kicked and beaten in front of her in their home in Buthidaung Township in late August 2017, taken away in handcuffs and not heard from since, is struggling as a single mother of two with no income and not enough food and water. She lives on a flood plain in a hut in the crowded Leda Makeshift Settlement that she says is one-sixth the size of her home back in Myanmar. She said she would like to find work to buy more nutritious food for her children but, “I don’t go far away. I hear people are stopped if they try to go outside this area.”[169]

Although small shops are appearing on the main streets of the camps, providing both jobs and goods, refugees told us that the shops were owned and controlled by local Bangladeshi entrepreneurs.

The ISCG’s target of 350,000 people to receive cash and in-kind livelihood support was only 35 percent met, as of its June 21, 2018 situation report.[170]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. Specialist reviews were conducted by Richard Weir, researcher in the Asia Division, and Brad Adams, Asia director; Emina Ćerimović, researcher, Disability Rights; Diederik Lohman, director, Health and Human Rights; Bethany Brown, researcher, Older People’s Rights; Marcos Orellana, director, Environment and Human Rights; Skye Wheeler, researcher, Women’s Rights; and Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights. Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, and James Ross, legal and policy director, provided program and legal reviews, respectively.

Editorial and research assistance was provided by Ciaron Murnane, University of Michigan Fellow in the Refugee Rights Program. Production and editorial assistance was provided by Marta Kosmyna, senior associate in the Refugee Rights Program. Production assistance was provided by Fitzroy Hopkins, administrative manager.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the Rohingya refugees who generously shared their experiences with us, as well as UN agencies, the World Bank, diplomats, NGOs, and the Bangladeshi government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner for agreeing to meet with us. 

       

 

 

 

 

[1] As of April 25, 2018, there were about 905,000 Rohingya refugees, of whom 623,000 resided in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, 162,000 in other camps and settlements, and 120,000 in host communities. Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” May 10, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/20180510_-_isc... (accessed July 23, 2018). The refugee area is commonly called Cox’s Bazar, which is the name of the district, but since the refugees are prohibited from entering Cox’s Bazar town, the camps are more accurately described as being within the Ukhiya and Teknaf subdistricts to the south of Cox’s Bazar town.

[2] Alan C. Lindquist, “Report on the 1978-79 Bangladesh Refugee Relief Operation,” June 1979, http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/LINDQUIST_REPORT.htm (accessed June 5, 2018).

[3] Human Rights Watch, Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: The Search for a Lasting Solution, August 1, 1997, https://www.hrw.org/report/1997/08/01/rohingya-refugees-bangladesh/searc... Asia Watch, Bangladesh: Abuse of Burmese Refugees from Arakan, vol. 5, no. 17, October 1993, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/BANGLADE93O.pdf.

[4] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “States of Denial: A Review of UNHCR’s Response to the Protracted Situation of Stateless Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh,” December 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/4ee754c19.pdf (accessed June 5, 2018), p. 2.

[5] “Rakhine Violence Sparks Concern,” IRIN, June 12, 2012, http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95631/MYANMAR-Rakhine-violence-sparks-con... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[6] Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Bangladesh Keeps Door Firmly Shut on Rohingya,” Deutsche-Welle, July 17, 2012, https://p.dw.com/p/15Z8v (accessed July 10, 2018).

[7] “Reactions to Rohingya Service Ban,” IRIN, August 3, 2012, https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/reactions-rohingya-service-ban (accessed July 10, 2018); Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, “Burma's Rohingya Refugees Find Little Respite in Bangladesh,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/jun/29/burma-rohingy... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[8] UNHCR, “States of Denial.”

[9] IOM, “Humanitarian Response to Undocumented Myanmar Nationals in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh Situation Report No. 5, February 28, 2017, https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/situation_reports/file/IOM-Bangl... (accessed June 8, 2018).

[10] Ben Parker, “Bangladesh Resists Greater UNHCR Role in Rohingya Crisis,” IRIN, October 23, 2017, https://www.irinnews.org/news/2017/10/23/bangladesh-resists-greater-unhc... (accessed June 8, 2018).

[11] Refugees International, “Unnatural Disaster: Aid Restrictions Endangering Rohingya Ahead of Monsoons in Bangladesh,” May 2018, https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/rohingyalivesatrisk (accessed June 8, 2018), p. 15.

[12] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis,” February 9, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/JRP%20for%20Ro... (accessed July 10, 2018), p. 13.

[13] UNHCR, “Bangladesh Refugee Emergency Population Factsheet” May 15, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/unhcrbanglades... (accessed July 1, 2018).

[14] “Over 1,600 households at risk of landslides and flooding will be relocated in Camp 20 extension in the coming weeks.” IOM, “Bangladesh: Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis Response - External Update,” June 7, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/iom-bangladesh-rohingya-humanita... (accessed June 8, 2018); As of mid-June 2018, relocations to Camp 20 had started. ISCG, “Cox’s Bazar: New Camp Boundary with Local Area Name as of April 25, 2018,” May 23, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/20180523_local... (accessed June 8, 2018).

[15] The SPHERE Handbook sets out minimum standards by which humanitarian organizations are advised to respond to disasters and other emergencies. Created and promoted by a broad range of humanitarian organizations, the SPHERE standards are voluntary and therefore non-binding. However, the SPHERE Handbook is seen as an authoritative source for best practice standards in circumstances where humanitarian relief is required. Sphere Project, “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response,” http://www.spherehandbook.org/ (accessed July 1, 2018).

[16] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” July 5, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/iscg_situation... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Susmita Dasgupta et al., “Vulnerability of Bangladesh to Cyclones in a Changing Climate: Potential Damages and Adaptation Cost,” World Bank Open Knowledge Repository, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/3767 (accessed May 31, 2018), p. 5.

[19] IOM, “Bangladesh — NPM ACAPS Analysis Hub Report — Rohingya Crisis Cyclones Background Report,” March 27, 2018, https://displacement.iom.int/reports/bangladesh-%E2%80%94-npm-acaps-anal... (accessed May 31, 2018).

[20] Dibarah Mahboob, “As Cyclones Loom, Bangladesh Leads Push to Protect Rohingya Refugees,” UNHCR press release, May 25, 2018, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2018/5/5b07f43c4/cyclones-loom-banglade... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[21] IOM, “Bangladesh — NPM ACAPS Analysis Hub Report — Rohingya Crisis Cyclones Background Report.”

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Tasmin (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, May 25, 2018.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Noor Hakim (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, May 15, 2018.

[24] Bill Frelick and Brian Root (Human Rights Watch), “Trump’s Brutal Refugee Program Reflects Prejudice Instead of Compassion,” commentary, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/07/trumps-brutal-refugee-program-reflec....

[25] Although it has not worked as planned, under the EU-Turkey deal, the EU was to return to Turkey all Syrian asylum seekers who reached the Greek islands by boat after March 20, 2016. In return, the EU would resettle the same number of Syrian refugees from Turkey.

[26] Vivian Tan, “Over 168,000 Rohingya likely fled Myanmar since 2012,” UNHCR press release, May 3, 2017, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/latest/2017/5/590990ff4/168000-rohingya-... (accessed June 5, 2018).

[27] Ibid; UNHCR, “Transcript: UNHCR’s Top Asia Official Briefs Press on Australian Offshore Processing on Nauru, and UNHCR Talks with Bangladesh and Myanmar,” April 4, 2018, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2018/4/5ac60a074/transcript-unhcrs... (accessed June 25, 2018); See also, Nazish Dholakia, “He Escaped Burma, But Not Australia’s Abusive Refugee Policy,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 25, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/25/he-escaped-burma-not-australias-abus....

[28] Bruno Stagno Ugarte (Human Rights Watch), “The Other Refugee Crisis: The Plight of Bangladesh’s Migrants,” commentary, Foreign Affairs, October 21, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/21/other-refugee-crisis.

[29] UNOCHA, “Appeal Snapshot for 2018, Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugee Crisis Joint Response Plan 2018,” https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/656/summary (accessed July 10, 2018).

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with anonymous humanitarian agency official, Cox’s Bazar, May 21, 2018.

[31] “Bangladesh wants India, other countries to play a big role in solving Rohingya crisis,” The Statesman, April 30, 2018, https://www.thestatesman.com/india/bangladesh-wants-india-countries-play... (accessed June 8, 2018).

[32] Human Rights Watch, Massacre by the River: Burmese Army Crimes against Humanity in Tula Toli, December 19, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/12/19/massacre-river/burmese-army-crimes... Human Rights Watch, All My Body Was Pain: Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma, November 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/11/16/all-my-body-was-pain/sexual-violen... UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, A/HRC/37/70, March 9, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/report-special-rapporteur-situation.... Amnesty International, “We Will Destroy Everything: Military Responsibility for Crimes Against Humanity in Rakhine State, Myanmar” June 27, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA1686302018ENGLISH.PDF (accessed July 6, 2018).

[33] Human Rights Watch, Massacre by the River: Burmese Army Crimes against Humanity in Tula Toli.

[34] “Burma: Scores of Rohingya Villages Bulldozed,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/23/burma-scores-rohingya-villages-bulld....

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Jamal (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, block D5, May 15, 2018.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Yakub (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 17, May 16, 2018.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with Daula (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 21, May 17, 2018. She provided Human Rights Watch identifying details on the dead and missing.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuzaa (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Amir Hussein (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, block C-12, May 17, 2018.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Sameera (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, block C-12, May 17, 2018.

[41] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/ (accessed July 23, 2018), ch. 19, pp. 1057-1058.

[42] The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.

[43] IPCC et al., “Report on Bangladesh Launch of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC,” August 2014, http://cdkn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Report-on-IPCC-outreach-event... (accessed February 17, 2015), p. 3; IPCC, “Climate Change 2014.”

[44] IPCC, “Climate Change 2014,” ch. 24.

[45] ISCG, “Situation Report: Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” May 24, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/iscg_situation... (accessed July 23, 2018).

[46] ISCG, “Situation Report: Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” June 21, 2018 https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/bangladesh/document/... (accessed July 23, 2018).

[47] ISCG, “Monsoon Emergency Preparedness and Response, Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” July 4, 2018,

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/iscg_monsoonem... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[48] NPM-ACAPAS Analysis Hub, “Thematic Report: Rohingya Crisis: Lessons Learned about the Impact of Cyclones,” April 4, 2018, https://displacement.iom.int/reports/bangladesh-—-npm-acaps-analysis-h... (accessed July 23, 2018). NPM-ACAPAS is IOM’s Needs and Population Monitoring project.

[49] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” May 10, 2018.

[50] Sphere Project, “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response,” pp. 252-253.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuzaa (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Hamida (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 11, May 18, 2018.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Hamida (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 11, May 18, 2018.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahammed Hashim (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[55] Mohammad Al-Masum Molla, “Unexplained Murders Raise Fear in Camps,” The Daily Star, July 8, 2018, https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/govt-deploy-2000-more-cops-1601851 (accessed on July 10, 2018).

[56] Zeba Siddiqui and Ruma Paul, “Killings Sow Fear Inside Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh,” Reuters, July 4, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya/killings-sow-fear-in... (accessed on July 10, 2018).

[57] Mohammad Al-Masum Molla, “Unexplained Murders Raise Fear in Camps.” Zeba Siddiqui and Ruma Paul, “Killings Sow Fear Inside Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh.”

[58] Ibid.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Dil Mohammed (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[60] Xchange Foundation, “Rohingya Repatriation Survey,” May 23, 2018, http://xchange.org/rohingya-repatriation-survey/ (accessed May 31, 2018), pp. 16-17.

[61] UNICEF, “UNICEF’s preventive plan to mitigate the risk of Acute Water Diarrhoea and Cholera among Rohingya Refugees,” October 6, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/unicef-s-preventive-plan-mitigat... (accessed June 5, 2018).

[62] Sphere Project, “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response,” p. 83.

[63] ISCG, “WASH Sector Cox’s Bazar Situation Report,” April 18, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/map/bangladesh/operational-presence-map-wash-partn... (accessed June 5, 2018).

[64] ISCG, “Monsoon Emergency Preparedness and Response, Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” June 13, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/iscg-monsoon-emergency-preparedn... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayyid Salam (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[66] Sphere Project, “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response,” pp. 105-106.

[67] UNOCHA, “Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis,” February 9, 2018, p. 47.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview Noor Haba (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuzaa (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[70] UNOCHA, “Appeal Snapshot for 2018,” (accessed July 10, 2018).

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Osman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[72] Xchange Foundation, “Rohingya Repatriation Survey,” p. 19.

[73] UNHCR, “Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Camp Settlement and Protection Profiling, Round 3,” April 2018, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/63821 (accessed June 6, 2018).

[74] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” July 5, 2018.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Kadir Ahmed (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 9, May 19, 2018.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuzaa (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[77] UNOCHA, “Appeal Snapshot for 2018,” (accessed July 10, 2018).

[78] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” July 5, 2018.

[79] UNOCHA, “Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis,” p. 75.

[80] Xchange Foundation, “Rohingya Repatriation Survey,” p. 20.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Tasmin (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, May 15, 2018.

[82] Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, “Joint Submission to CEDAW on Myanmar,” May 2018, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/201805myanm....

[83] Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis (IAWG), “Women and Girls Critically Underserved in the Rohingya Humanitarian Response,” February 22, 2018, http://iawg.net/resource/women-girls-critically-underserved-rohingya-hum... (accessed July 23, 2018).

[84] Ibid.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Lynn van Beek, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, Médecins Sans Frontières, Cox’s Bazar, May 16, 2018.

[86] “Burma: Widespread Rape of Rohingya Women, Girls,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/16/burma-widespread-rape-rohingya-women....

[87] World Health Organization (WHO), “World report on violence and health,” 2002, http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/e... (accessed July 23, 2018), ch. 6.

[88] Skye Wheeler, “Failing Rohingya Rape Victims in Bangladesh,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, February 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/23/failing-rohingya-rape-victims-bangla....

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with Yasmin (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Lambasia Camp, May 14, 2018.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview with Yasmin (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Lambasia Camp, May 14, 2018.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with Kahimullah (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, May 15, 2018.

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Arefa (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with Hamida (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 11, May 18, 2018.

[94] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted December 13, 2006, G.A. Res. 61/106, entered into force May 3, 2008, ratified by Bangladesh in November 2007, art. 11.

[95] Stephanie Nebehay, “Rohingya still fleeing violence, persecution in Myanmar - U.N. rights boss,” Reuters, July 4, 2018, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-myanmar-rohingya-un/rohingya-continue-... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Kahimullah (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 2W, May 15, 2018.

[97] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force October 4, 1967.

[98] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” May 10, 2018.

[99] “Bangladesh to identify Rohingya refugees as 'forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens,” FirstPost, October 5, 2017 https://www.firstpost.com/world/bangladesh-to-identify-rohingya-refugees... (accessed June 29, 2018).

[100] “Burma: Military Commits Crimes Against Humanity,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 25, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/25/burma-military-commits-crimes-agains....

[101] Human Rights Watch, Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution, vol. 12, no. 3(C), May 2000, https://www.hrw.org/report/2000/05/01/burmese-refugees-bangladesh/still-..., pp. 5-15.

[102] See, for example, UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 15, The Position of Aliens Under the Covenant, April 11, 1986, http://www.refworld.org/docid/45139acfc.html (accessed June 19, 2018).

[103] UNOCHA, “Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis,” p. 20.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with Suleman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Osman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[106] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, ratified by Bangladesh in September 2000, article 12(3).

[107] Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary (Arlington VA: N.P. Engel, 1993), pp. 386-87.

[108] Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, November 4, 1972, art. 36.

[109] The Foreigners Act of Bangladesh, No. XXXI, 1946, sec. 3(1)(e)(i).

[110] Ibid., sec. 3(1).

[111] Quoting Anisul Huq, head of delegation. UN Human Rights Council, “Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Bangladesh,” A/HRC/WG.6/30/L.10, May 25, 2018, https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/bangladesh/session... (accessed June 10, 2018).

[112] “Bangladesh and Myanmar conclude ‘Arrangement’ on Return of displaced persons from Rakhine State,” Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs news release, November 26, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/bangladesh-and-myanmar-conclude-... (accessed June 10, 2018).

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Abul Kalam, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), Cox’s Bazar, May 12, 2018.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Osman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[115] Xchange Foundation, “Rohingya Repatriation Survey,” p. 28.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Kadir Ahmed (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 9, May 20, 2018.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Abul Kalam.

[118] “Myanmar orders Rohingya to leave ‘no man’s land’ near border,” Hindustan Times, May 20, 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/myanmar-orders-rohingya-to-lea... (accessed June 10, 2018).

[119] “Final Report: Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the People of Rakhine,” Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, August 2017, http://www.rakhinecommission.org/the-final-report/ (accessed July 23, 2018), p. 35.

[120] “Repatriation Camps Will Be Ready on Time, Say Officials,” Myanmar News Agency, January 14, 2018, http://www.moi-mm.info/moi:eng/?q=news/15/01/2018/id-12103 (accessed June 4, 2018). The report said the 124-acre Hla Po Khaung would accommodate about 30,000 people in 625 buildings.

[121] “Authorities in Mauntaw Ensure Camp Completion for Refugees,” Global New Light of Myanmar, January 20, 2018, http://www.globalnewlightofmyanmar.com/authorities-maungtaw-ensure-camp-... (accessed June 4, 2018).

[122] UN Security Council, “The situation in Myanmar,” S/PV.8179, February 13, 2018, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-C... (accessed June 10, 2018).

[123] “UN, Bangladesh Sign MOU on Rohingya Repatriation,” BenarNews, April 13, 2018, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/bangladesh-refugees-04132018164... (accessed June 10, 2018).

[124] “Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and the United Nations,” UNDP press release, June 6, 2018, http://www.mm.undp.org/content/myanmar/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases... (accessed June 10, 2018). For standards on voluntary repatriation, see UNHCR, “Handbook Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection,” 1996, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/publications/legal/3bfe68d32/handbook-volunta... (accessed July 1, 2018).

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Abul Kalam.

[126] Human Rights Watch interview Sayyid Salam (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Sumbul Rizvi, senior coordinator, ISCG, Cox’s Bazaar, May 21, 2018.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with Nobi Hassan, Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 11, May 18, 2018. He consented to use his real name and to be interviewed for a video, accessible here: https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/video/2018/05/23/video-landslides-threa....

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with Noor Haba (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayyid Salam (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with Kadir Ahmed (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 9, May 20, 2018.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuzaa (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[133] Ruma Paul, Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall, “Floating Island: New home for Rohingya refugees emerges in Bay of Bengal,” Reuters, February 21, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-island/floating-isla... (accessed July 10, 2018).

[134] “‘1 lakh Rohingyas to be relocated to Bhasanchar within 2 months,’” The Daily Star, May 19, 2018, https://www.thedailystar.net/rohingya-crisis/one-lakh-rohingyas-be-reloc... (accessed July 6, 2018). See also, Syful Islam, “PMO Approves Fresh Allocation for Bhasan Char Development,” The Financial Express, April 18, 2018, https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/national/pmo-approves-fresh-allocatio... (accessed June 5, 2018).

[135] “Race Against Time: Officials Struggle to Protect Rohingya Refugees Ahead of Peak Monsoon,” Reuters, June 20, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-06-20/race-against-time-... (accessed July 6, 2018).

[136] Ruma Paul et al., “Floating Island.”

[137] “100,000 Rohingya Refugees Are To Be Removed To the Bhasan Char Very Soon: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” Today’s World News 24, May 24, 2018, https://www.twnews24.com/100000-rohingya-refugees-are-to-be-removed-to-t... (accessed June 7, 2018).

[138] Weiyi Cai et al., “A Remote Home for the Rohingya,” Reuters Graphics, February 22, 2018, http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/MYANMAR-ROHINGYA/010060Z21XP/i... (accessed June 6, 2018).

[139] Ibid.

[140] UNHCR, “Relocation of Refugees to Bhashan Char Island,” undated paper on file with Human Rights Watch.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with Noor Haba (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with Mobib Bullah, chairman, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion camp, May 13, 2018.

[144] Shaikh Azizur Rahman, “Rohingya refugees reject UN-Myanmar repatriation agreement,” The Guardian, July 5, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/06/rohingya-refugees-reject-u... (accessed July 6, 2018).

[145] Human Rights Watch interviews with sources in Bangladesh who asked to remain anonymous.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with Basher (pseudonym), Camp 2W, May 15, 2018.

[147] ISCG, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” May 10, 2018.

[148] Ibid.

[149] Ibid.

[150] Jason Patinkin, “A Lost Generation: No Education, No Dreams for Rohingya Refugee Children,” IRIN, May 28, 2018, http://www.irinnews.org/news-feature/2018/05/28/lost-generation-no-educa... (accessed June 7, 2018).

[151] Human Rights Watch interview with a humanitarian worker who asked not to be identified, Cox’s Bazar, May 19, 2018.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with Sameera (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[153] Human Rights Watch interview with Gaffer (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 11, May 18, 2018.

[154] Xchange Foundation, “Rohingya Repatriation Survey.”

[155] “Final Report,” Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, p. 40.

[156] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayyid Salam (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[157] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force Jan. 3, 1976, http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b36c0.html, art. 13. Human Rights Watch believes secondary education should also be compulsory and free to all.

[158] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 13, The Right to Education, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (1999), para. 51.

[159] Ibid., para. 57.

[160] CESCR, General Comment No. 20, Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/20 (2009), http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a60961f2.html (accessed June 8, 2018), para. 30.

[161] CESCR, General Comment No. 20; CESCR, “Statement of the CESCR: Duties of States Towards Refugees and Migrants under the ICESCR,” March 31, 2017, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2017/1 (2017), https://undocs.org/E/C.12/2017/1 (accessed July 23, 2018).

[162] CESCR, “Statement of the CESCR,” para. 8.

[163] Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b38f0.html (accessed June 8, 2018), art. 28-29.

[164] UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 4, Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and No. 23, Committee on the Rights of the Child on State Obligations Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration in Countries of Origin, Transit, Destination and Return, U.N. Doc. CMW/C/GC/4-CRC/C/GC/23 (2017), http://www.refworld.org/docid/5a12942a2b.html (accessed June 8, 2018), para. 59.

[165] Ibid., para. 9.

[166] Ibid., para. 59.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Suleman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp 16, May 19, 2018.

[168] Human Rights Watch interview with Osman (pseudonym), Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Thainghali Camp, May 17, 2018.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with Dil Nawaz (pseudonym), Leda Makeshift Settlement, May 21, 2018.

[170] ISCG, “Situation Report: Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” June 21, 2018.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. Said Reuters photographer Cathal McNaughton: “It was important to show the scale of the situation. To show the terrain, the earth where the Rohingya had to live. I waited for the element that would bring all this image together. The person in the bottom left of the frame holds the umbrella in the monsoon rains in an attempt to bring some respite from their situation.”

© 2017 Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

(Bangkok) – The Bangladeshi government should relocate Rohingya refugees living in a severely overcrowded mega camp to safer ground in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. The refugees, who fled the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing that began in August 2017, should not have to face flooding and landslides, and should have sturdier shelters and adequate education for their extended stay.

The 68-page report, “‘Bangladesh Is Not My Country’: The Plight of Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar,” is based on a May 2018 visit to Cox’s Bazar. Human Rights Watch found that the mega camp is severely overcrowded. The average usable space is 10.7 square meters per person, compared with the recommended international standard of 45 square meters per person. Densely packed refugees are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, fires, community tensions, and domestic and sexual violence. Bangladeshi authorities should relocate Rohingya refugees to smaller, less densely packed camps on flatter, accessible, nearby land within the same Ukhiya subdistrict where the mega camp is located, Human Rights Watch said.

“Bangladesh has rightfully garnered international praise for receiving 700,000 Rohingya refugees, though they still face difficult conditions,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Bangladesh should register fleeing Rohingya as refugees, ensure adequate health care and education, and let them pursue livelihoods outside the camp.”

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground. 

Many of the new Rohingya arrivals, plus another 200,000 who had fled previous waves of persecution in Myanmar, are living in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp. Despite efforts by the refugees and aid agencies to strengthen huts, build safer infrastructure, and develop safety plans, the camps and their residents have remained highly vulnerable to catastrophic weather conditions. On July 25, five children were killed in flooding and landslides.

Interview: “An ‘Island Prison’ is Not the Answer”

Interview: “An ‘Island Prison’ is Not the Answer”

Bill Frelick, director of the refugee rights program at Human Rights Watch, spent 10 days in May at the world's largest refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. He recently spoke to Nazish Dholakia about what he saw, the risks the Rohingya refugees face, and Bangladesh’s misguided plans to relocate refugees to a flood-prone island. 

Bangladeshi authorities, to maintain pressure on Myanmar to agree to the return of the refugees, insist that the camps are temporary. This, however, contributes to the poor conditions in the camps, as the government has blocked the construction of permanent structures, including cyclone-resistant buildings, and has not allowed for other infrastructure that would suggest longer-term stay. Educational opportunities are inadequate.

“I live in fear of landslides,” said a 26-year-old mother of four living in a hut on a steep slope in the camp. “I keep putting sandbags next to our hut to keep it from sliding down the hill. I would like to relocate to a safer place. I think about it all the time. No one has talked to me or offered relocation.”

Relocation of a significant number of refugees to less densely packed camps, with fewer environmental risks and adequate standards of services, is crucial for the health and well-being of all the refugees, Human Rights Watch said. However, this needs to be done with the consultation and consent of the refugees to keep their displaced village communities intact and maintain contact with the broader Rohingya refugee community.

The Bangladesh navy and Chinese construction crews have prepared the uninhabited island of Bhasan Char for the transfer of refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area. The Bangladeshi foreign ministry, in response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, said that since the refugee presence “is destroying the overall economic, social, environmental situation,” the government would soon start relocating 100,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char, which will be fortified by an embankment to protect from high tides and waves. However, the mangrove-and-grass island, formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River, appears unsuitable for accommodating the refugees. Experts predict that Bhasan Char could become completely submerged in the event of a strong cyclone during a high tide.

The island would most likely have very limited access to education and health services, and few opportunities for livelihoods or self-sufficiency. The government has made no commitment to allow refugees’ freedom of movement in and from Bhasan Char. In addition to Bhasan Char’s environmental failings, housing refugees there would unnecessarily isolate them, and preventing them from leaving would essentially turn the island into a detention center.

Bhasan Char is not the only relocation option. Experts pointed out six feasible relocation sites in Ukhiya subdistrict totaling more than 1,300 acres which could accommodate 263,000 people. These sites are in an eight-kilometer stretch almost due west of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, toward the coast.

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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The Bangladeshi foreign ministry said that while Bangladesh was providing basic needs, “the ultimate solution of the Rohingya problem lies in the safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return” of the refugees. The ministry said they had already released 6,000 acres of reserve forest, and due to the existing “land shortage of our own population,” no further alternative land was available. They said the only other possible alternative settlement was in Bhasan Char.

Donor governments and intergovernmental organizations should be genuinely and robustly involved in supporting Bangladesh to meet the humanitarian needs of all Rohingya refugees. They should fund the humanitarian appeal for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, but also apply concerted and persistent pressure on Myanmar to meet all conditions necessary for safe, dignified, and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees.

The refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch all said they wanted to return to Myanmar, but only when conditions allow them to return voluntarily. These include citizenship, recognition of their Rohingya identity, justice for crimes committed against them, return of homes and property, and assurances of security, peace, and respect for their rights.

“It has been nearly one year since Myanmar’s campaign of killings, rape, and arson drove the Rohingya refugees across the border. Responsibility for this crisis lies with Myanmar, even though the burdens of this mass influx have mostly fallen on Bangladesh,” Frelick said. “Myanmar’s failure to take any meaningful actions to address recent atrocities against the Rohingya, or the decades-long discrimination and repression against the population, is at the root of delays in refugees being able to go home.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Can you describe what you saw at the camp in May?  

It was the beginning of the rainy season and it was pretty wet. We were slipping and sliding around, and it was pretty treacherous in places, and I know it’s only gotten worse since then. So many of the huts are built on very steep slopes, on sandy, clay soil. I was looking at a number of people’s houses that I thought were going to get washed away soon. I could not help but think that these people had managed to escape horrifying attacks by Myanmar’s military. But now, their lives were at risk again. 

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are at imminent risk of landslides. Bangladesh authorities, with the assistance of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, should urgently relocate refugees to safer ground. 

How many refugees are threatened by flooding and landslides? 

The United Nations estimates that 215,000 people are at risk of landslides and flooding, and about 44,000 are at very high risk. Camps are supposed to have a density of about 45 square feet per person. This one has an average of 11. It’s very densely packed. I could see places that to me looked like they were at high risk of landslides and flooding. I particularly feared for the vulnerable. These were especially dangerous conditions for older people, children, those living with disabilities. As it turns out I was right to worry. Several children have already been killed in landslides. 

Rohingya woman seeking medical attention for her child at the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

In addition to the other dangers that come with people being so packed together – the security risks and fears of disease outbreaks because of contamination and water-borne diseases – the camp was built on an elephant migration route, and some people have been killed by elephants going through the camp. Elephants have not been a huge cause of death, but a lot of people expressed fear of the elephants.

What are the Rohingya doing to prepare?

I was impressed by the refugees’ resilience, and how much people were working to try to improve their conditions themselves. Every time I turned around, I saw someone running with bamboo over their shoulder to shore up their family’s hut. People were working together in a communal way, building hand-railings on steep stairways that are cut into the sides of the hills, because they really are treacherous.

Rohingya refugees carrying bamboo in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area.
 

© 2016 Private

Can you tell us about anyone you met?  

I spoke to one girl who was 16 years old. She was completely veiled, I never actually saw her face. She showed me a jar with a bullet that she said was removed from her hip. As she was escaping Myanmar she was shot. She’s disabled and doesn’t have crutches, so she has to walk with the help of her sisters. They’re orphans and they’re living in the camp alone and don’t get any assistance. They asked neighbors to help them build the hut that they’re living in. She told me she would have liked to go to school, but now that seems outside the realm of possibility. She is making the best of her circumstances, but they are very difficult. 

What support is the Bangladesh government providing? 

The Bangladeshi government insists that the camp is temporary and that the Rohingya refugees will be going back to Myanmar soon. The huts are made of tarp on a frame of bamboo, all held together by twine, and that’s it. And the reason it’s so flimsy is that the government doesn’t want them to build hard shelters or cyclone-resistant shelters because they would have a look of permanence. And the same applies to the schools. They call them “temporary learning centers,” without much of a curriculum, because the Bangladeshi authorities don’t want to give a sense that the refugees will be there for a long time. 

A boy climbs up a steep pathway in Chakmarkul Camp for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, February 2018.

© 2018 Andrew RC Marshall/ Reuters

What should Bangladesh be doing? 

One thing is to move people to safer ground. This is an obvious response from anyone who looks at the mega camp. We understand that there is land near where the mega camp is located, so people would still be close to other refugees. They would also be relatively close to the border with Myanmar, which keeps the hope alive that they will be able to go back to their homes.

The government, on the other hand, says that there is no land to spare. That they have already given up acres and acres of protected forest land to accommodate the refugees. The government has proposed moving significant numbers of refugees to what is effectively a bank of silt, the merely two-decade-old island called Bhasan Char. Moving them will isolate the refugees. It wouldn’t give them a chance to be self-sufficient. It would potentially put them in danger because experts say that if there was a cyclone at high tide, the island could become completely submerged. The refugees have not consented to move there. Chances are, once they are on this island, they would be stuck there and wouldn’t be able to get off.

This plan is really wishful thinking on the part of the Bangladeshi government, that this very large refugee population could be isolated and segregated. I think there is a good chance that refugees would not go voluntarily. 

Walkways on the steep slopes of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have been particularly treacherous. In May 2018, refugees in some places were starting to build stairs with handrails. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Especially when it rains, eroded gullies and lack of steps and handrails make for treacherous walking in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

What about moving them to the land close by? Has the government considered this?

This still needs to be explored. And with issuing this report, part of what we’re trying to do is suggest that there may be alternatives to moving them to Bhasan Char. That Plan A isn’t necessarily the best idea, and they ought to consider Plans B and C.

“Because I am blind, I can’t go outside. I can’t get food rations, I have no money for fish or meat. I am dependent on humanitarian relief,” says a 70-year-old refugee in Kutupalong- Balukhali Expansion Camp, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

What did the refugees express about what they want?

To a person, every refugee I interviewed said they want to go back to their homes in Myanmar, that they do not want to live in Bangladesh, that they consider themselves nationals of Myanmar. But if they return, they want to be recognized as citizens of Myanmar. They want their Rohingya ethnicity to be recognized, they want freedom of religion, and they of course also want to be able to live in safety, not fear.

The reality is that the Myanmar military ethnically cleansed the Rohingya with a great deal of abuse – including killings, rape, pillage, arson – and on top of that, they have been repressed for generations. The conditions that would make it possible for them to return to their homes in safety and dignity are a long way off. And until those conditions are met, the refugees have nowhere else to go and I think will be staying in Bangladesh for some time to come. The sooner the authorities in Bangladesh recognize that, the sooner the refugees will be able to become self-sustaining, to educate their children, and to provide for themselves.  

What role can other countries or international bodies play in addressing this crisis? 

International actors need to be united in placing the blame for this situation where it belongs, on the government of Myanmar. This is not a crisis of Bangladesh’s choosing. At a time when many other countries have been pushing refugees away and closing their borders, Bangladesh kept its borders open. For this Bangladesh deserves a great deal of credit. It’s doing what other governments should be doing, of course, as a matter of international law, but Bangladesh deserves a great deal of support by the international community.

A Rohingya boy looks down on the place where his hut washed away the day before in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2018. Photograph by Bill Frelick.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Pressure should be put on Myanmar, as we approach August 25, the first anniversary of this crisis, to bring to justice those who committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. And concerned governments should press Myanmar to create the conditions – fundamentally changed conditions – that will enable the refugees to return. In the meantime, donors should provide the needed support. The UN appeal for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis for this year is only one-quarter funded. There are great shortfalls in water and sanitation and education, and this is having dire, life-threatening consequences.

Finally, the international community should work with Bangladesh to find sustainable, safer land in proximity to the mega camp in Cox’s Bazar and relocate significant numbers of refugees into smaller camps within that area. If they were moved to Bhasan Char island, as is the current plan, it could become an island prison for them, and that is really untenable. 

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tents are seen at a makeshift migrant camp on a street near the metro stations of Jaures and Stalingrad in Paris, France, October 28, 2016

© 2016 Reuters

In France, asylum seekers are sleeping rough, and flawed procedures often leave unaccompanied migrant children adrift, homeless, and excluded from the care they need.

But instead of addressing these challenges or correcting flaws in existing laws, legislators have decided to push through a problematic new asylum and migration law that could make it harder for people to get needed protection.

The main aim of the law, passed August 1, seems to be to make it harder to obtain asylum.  Applications now need to be made within 90 days upon entering French territory or face a fast-track process with fewer safeguards.

Appeal rights have been curbed. Some asylum seekers who are rejected, including those from countries deemed “safe,” may be deported even before the asylum court rules on their appeal. While safe removal of rejected asylum seekers is a valid policy, the new rules substantially increase the risk that people who need protection could be wrongly removed to face death, torture, or other irreparable harm.

The European Court of Human Rights has criticized France in the past for a system that allows fast-tracked asylum seekers to be removed before appeals are heard. The new law is likely to face similar scrutiny in the courts.  

There are some positives in the new law. It extends residence permits from one to four years for persons given ‘subsidiary’ protection, but not full refugee status, and removes from the list of safe countries of origin those whose governments persecute LGBT people.

The law also creates an exception to the crime of helping undocumented migrants when done for “a strictly humanitarian objective.” But lawmakers had little choice given the recent Constitutional Court ruling that solidarity should not be criminalized, and some groups are worried that judges could narrowly interpret the humanitarian exception in a way that permits prosecutions.

The National Assembly missed the opportunity to ban family detention, even though the Senate had proposed to limit that form of detention to five days. The final law doubles maximum detention pending deportation from 45 to 90 days, including for accompanied children, although they have pledged to propose separate legislation to curb detention of children in the coming months.

It is shameful that rather than addressing dire situations faced by many asylum seekers and migrants, France’s lawmakers decided to weaken safeguards for asylum.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am