Since August 2017, an estimated 716,915 Rohingya refugees fled from Myanmar seeking safety and protection in Bangladesh. The population, including the pre-existing refugee population living in Bangladesh combined with new arrivals, stands at 866,457 as of December 2020.
The majority are reliant on humanitarian assistance including shelter, food, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. As the situation entered its fourth year, UNHCR and its protection partners strive to strengthen the response mechanisms to address protection needs of the Rohingya refugees, including in a range of key cross cutting issues across sectors, each of which requires regular monitoring. The COVID-19 pandemic is negatively affecting the overall protection environment in Bangladesh. Mitigating the short- and longer- term social protection consequences of the pandemic and ensuring ways to safeguard the resilience and psychosocial well-being of refugee communities, while ensuring that protection and humanitarian space does not contract, is a priority for the UNHCR.
Access to territory and non-refoulement: Since January 2020, a total of 1,554 refugees have been registered as new arrivals in Cox’s Bazar. While the majority entered Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar, some had previously sought asylum or stayed in other countries, including 43 in Malaysia, 30 in Saudi Arabia, and 21 in India. UNHCR continues to monitor for any new arrivals of refugees, though throughout 2020 no significant movements across the border have been reported. A group of 306 refugees who were rescued at sea by Bangladesh authorities in May after their boat failed to reach Malaysia continue to be accommodated on Bhasan Char Island, despite the fact that most have family members in the camps.
The UN continues to await a formal response on access to the island to assess the group’s protection needs. A go-and-see visit was organized for 40 representatives of the refugee community in early September and representatives were asked by the Government to encourage refugees to agree to relocate to the facility. Following the visit, the government organized the relocation of refugees from different camps in Cox’s Bazar in December, with some 3,498 refugees being relocated in two movements. The UN Country Team continues to advocate for access to the island to undertake protection and technical assessments, and in line with the Government’s commitment has continued to highlight the importance of obtaining the informed and voluntary consent of refugees prior to any relocation.