Thai authorities should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unhindered access to Rohingya from Myanmar to determine whether they qualify for refugee status, Human Rights Watch said today. The government’s inhumane policy of holding Rohingya arriving in Thailand in indefinite detention should be immediately repealed.
The latest group of Rohingya arrived in Thailand by land, crossing from Myanmar into Mae Sot district of Tak province on May 20, 2020. Thai authorities arrested at least 12 Rohingya and sent them to the Mae Sot immigration detention facility. Approximately 200 Rohingya are being held in immigration detention and other facilities across Thailand.
“The Thai government should scrap its policy of summarily locking up Rohingya and throwing away the key, condemning them to indefinite detention in cramped and unhygienic detention centers now susceptible to a Covid-19 outbreak,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Rohingya have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar. Thailand should permit the UN refugee agency to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand to identify and assist those seeking refugee status.”
Refugee screening is crucial for protecting Rohingya asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. The Myanmar government and military have long persecuted the Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, who have been effectively denied citizenship in Myanmar, have fled repression and dire poverty. Human trafficking gangs have abused and exploited many of those who eluded death during their dangerous journey.
The situation has significantly worsened since August 2017, when the Myanmar military committed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, driving as many as 740,000 into exile in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Responsibility for the security of the Rohingya rests primarily with the Myanmar government, but extends to the countries where they seek refuge, Human Rights Watch said. Like its predecessors, the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has treated Rohingya arriving at the border as illegal immigrants, subject to detention in squalid immigration lockups. The government has not permitted UNHCR to conduct refugee status determinations for them. Thailand also discriminates against Rohingya by refusing to allow them to register as legally documented migrant workers, unlike other people coming from Myanmar.
The nightmare of what we and the world have feared for months had finally arrived at our doorsteps — and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The very next day, humanitarian groups used loudspeakers to warn us about Cyclone Amphan, a super-cyclone that was the strongest storm on record in the Bay of Bengal. The groups raised two red flags together in camps, one to signal the detection of the coronavirus in refugee camps and the other to signal the cyclone.
Wednesday night marked the Night of Decree for Muslims, the night when the Koran was first sent down from heaven to the world. Rohingya refugees in camps were waiting for the night to seek safeguards from Allah. While thousands were preparing for prayers, heavy rain and wind started to strike.
The refugees held their breath in fear and despair. The worst fear was for the lives of more than 300 who had been recently relocated to the Bhasan Char island by the Bangladesh government. We still don’t know what happened that night on the floating island. refugee settlement
On Thursday morning, we woke to a number of devastations: landslide, dozens of destroyed shelters, and the flooding. Fortunately, no casualties were reported. Still, the dark and heavy clouds are gathering above us; the sounds of thunder are roaring across the sky.
The Bangladesh government has kept over 300 Rohingya refugees confined on Bhasan Char, a remote silt island in the path of a super cyclone without adequate protections or safety measures, Human Rights Watch said today. Three people were reported killed in Bangladesh soon after the storm struck the coast.
The authorities should take immediate steps to ensure safety and transfer the refugees, including nearly 40 children, to the camps in Cox’s Bazar as soon as possible. The United Nations refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations are there, prepared to provide them with critical services and reunite them with their families.
“The Bangladesh government properly brought Rohingya refugees stranded at sea ashore, but holding them on a tiny island during a cyclone is dangerous and inhumane,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our fear that Bhasan Char would become a ‘floating detention center’ has now turned into a fear of a submerged one.”
Cyclone Amphan made landfall on the Bangladesh coast on the evening of May 20, 2020, though it shifted course slightly so Bhasan Char is no longer in its direct path. Bangladesh’s Land Ministry has previously reported that Bhasan Char could be submerged by a strong cyclone at high tide. About 300 Bangladesh security officials are also on the island.
Bangladesh rescued two boats of Rohingya refugees in early May after Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh authorities pushed them back to sea for two months. While Bangladesh initially stated that the refugees were being temporarily quarantined on Bhasan Char to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in the camps, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has since said they would “most likely” be held on the island indefinitely.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 25 Rohingya refugees, including both refugees on the island and their family members in Cox’s Bazar. They said that those on the island are being confined in prison-like conditions without freedom of movement or adequate access to food, water, or medical care. Some alleged beatings by Bangladesh security forces.
The ink was barely dry on a statement by Southeast Asian governments pledging to leave “no one behind” in the coronavirus pandemic when reports of hundreds of Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea emerged in early April.
But instead of showing solidarity, the countries demurred on sending out search and rescue missions or granting access. When one of the boats approached Malaysia hoping to land, the navy pushed it back—giving the desperate passengers food but refusing to tow them to land. The boats lingered at sea for two months before nearly 400 emaciated refugees were rescued by Bangladesh on April 15. Another boat with almost 300 Rohingyas languished in Bangladeshi waters for weeks before its navy reluctantly rescued them on May 7. Calls by Dhaka for more support from Southeast Asia have fallen on deaf ears. In the meantime, pushed out by the ongoing persecution and violence in Myanmar and hardship in the Bangladeshi camps, the Muslim minority continues to flee by boat.
The Malaysian government points to the coronavirus threat as justification for turning the refugees away. Bangladesh is asking why it should again be its job to come to the Rohingyas’ rescue, calling for Western countries to act instead of chastising others. But while people are starving, there is no time for whataboutism. Human rights organizations have called the refusal to help a “death sentence” that might turn the Andaman Sea into a “graveyard.”
Such repudiations are not new for the Rohingya or for other victims of human rights violations in Southeast Asia. Among states where human rights abuses are rife, resources often scarce, and the principle of noninterference reigns, governments can count on one another to look the other way when needed.
Aid groups alarmed as Rohingya tests positive for COVID-19 in the densely populated camps, home to a million refugees.
The novel coronavirus has been detected in one of the camps in southern Bangladesh that are home to more than a million Rohingya refugees, according to officials.
An ethnic Rohingya refugee and a local person tested positive for COVID-19, a senior Bangladeshi official and a United Nations spokeswoman said on Thursday. It was the first confirmed case in the densely populated camps as humanitarian groups warned the infection could devastate the crowded settlement.
“Today, they have been taken to an isolation centre after they tested positive,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
The other patient was from the “host population”, a term usually used to refer to locals living outside the camps, the UN spokeswoman said.
“One patient is from the refugee population and the other one from the surrounding host population,” WHO spokesman Catalin Bercaru told the AFP news agency.
Bercaru said “rapid investigation teams” were being deployed to follow up on the two cases, adding that the patients’ contacts are being traced for quarantine and testing.
Coronavirus infections have been gathering pace in recent days in Bangladesh, which has reported 18,863 cases of COVID-19 and 283 deaths so far.
The government enforced a nationwide lockdown on March 26 in an effort to check the spread of the disease. Despite the shutdown, the number of cases has risen sharply in recent days and the daily death toll and new infections hit a record on Wednesday.
Aid groups have warned of a looming humanitarian disaster after coronavirus was detected for the first time in the sprawling camps that host about one million Rohingya refugees.
The camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which are more densely populated than some of the world’s busiest cities, have been under lockdown since 14 March, in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.
On Thursday, the UN confirmed that an ethnic Rohingya refugee and another person had tested positive for Covid-19. “Both patients are in isolation and contact tracing is underway,” the UN’s refugee agency said in a statement.
Humanitarian groups fear the virus could race through the camps, where families live with up to 10 people in a room, often with limited access to basics such as soap and clean water. Households are forced to queue to access drinking water and food at communal distribution points, making social distancing impossible.
On top of overcrowding, many refugees, who fled persecution in Myanmar, have underlying health conditions or have not received standard immunizations, according to health experts.
The charity Médicins Sans Frontières warned that before Covid-19, around a third of patients it treated presented with respiratory tract symptoms, such as shortness of breath, meaning they are at higher risk of the disease. Health services for those who get sick are limited.
Health experts and Rohingya community leaders have become increasingly concerned as the number of coronavirus infections have continued to rise in Bangladesh, which has reported 18,863 cases of Covid-19 and 283 deaths.
Dr. Shamim Jahan, Save the Children’s health director in Bangladesh, said in a statement the virus already had overwhelmed the country.
More than 670 makeshift dwellings for Rohingya refugees in a camp across Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar were damaged in a fire on Tuesday morning, according to officials.
“We’ve been confirmed about the fire incident and are now assessing the extent of damages officially,” Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mahbub Alam Talukder told Anadolu Agency.
No casualties were reported so far, he said. “The UNHCR [UN refugee agency] will repair the damaged tents soon.”
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, UNHCR communication officer in Bangladesh Louise Donovan said that a total of 312 shelters were destroyed, with 362 more partially damaged, as well as small shops and businesses.
“The UNHCR mobilized emergency response teams and coordinated with our partners,” she said, adding that Rohingya refugees themselves had been the first responders. “Thankfully, no loss of life has been reported.”
Rahmat Karim, a Rohingya victim whose house was also damaged in the incident, told Anadolu Agency that more than 500 houses had been damaged.
“Above 500 of our houses were fully damaged and some other houses were partially damaged,” Karim added.
He said: “Five people of us have been wounded during the rescue works. Two or three people are still missing.”
Meanwhile, local media reports said that at least 100 makeshift tents were damaged in a fire at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Ukhia Upazila at around 9.00 a.m. local time [0300GMT].
Eighty-four rights groups have urged Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to address the hate speech against Rohingya refugees following the online campaign against the community which began shortly after the partial lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
In a joint statement copied to Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Human Resources Minister M Saravanan and Suhakam chairman Othman Hashim, they said the attacks on the community had raised “serious concerns” about Malaysia’s commitment to protecting human rights, including the rights to equality, non-discrimination, life and security stated in international law and guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
To date, they said, the government had “failed to adequately respond” to the surge in hate speech as well as the threats directed at the Rohingya population in the country.
They also accused Putrajaya of sending mixed messages regarding the attacks on the community.
On April 27, they said, senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had expressed sympathy for the Rohingya and urged Malaysians to take a peaceful approach to the issue.
“However, on April 30, this message of tolerance was undermined by an official statement by the home minister that emphasised the Rohingya’s lack of legal status or rights in Malaysia and justified measures ‘to stop the intrusion of illegal immigrants,” they said.
They also claimed that authorities had “sought to cast blame on the Rohingya community” for the spread of hate speech and discriminatory rhetoric, citing police investigations opened into Rohingya social media users who had posted videos containing derogatory remarks about Malaysians.
Stranded at sea in hundreds, Rohingya women are being raped by the crew members of the boat and getting pregnant, and on the other hand, the traffickers are extorting additional money promising to get ashore either in Bangladesh or Malaysia exploiting the pushback as a pretext, according to family members.
A recent survivor Nurul Islam said, “The traffickers raped women and some of them got pregnant on the boat.” He also informed that many people died due to trauma, starvation, dehydration and malnutrition.
Brother of another victim currently on the boat adrift told RVision, “The trafficker recently asked from me extra (_0,000) BDT and promised me that they will get ashore in Bangladesh in a few days. On Sunday, I deposited the amount to a local phone number (018__ ____) via bKash service. I had to pay as I was threatened and worried about the safety of my brother.” adding “But he is saying me again that they are watching the situation calming down to head to their preferred destination.”
The source requested us not to disclose the information hidden above and his identity as it could endanger his brother.
Reportedly, the traffickers are not intentionally trying to sneak ashore though it could be possible like the first group of 29, lest they could lose the expected amount as the authorities in both sides are fully aware of the situation.
According to the source, if the authorities detained the trafficking victims, it is a great loss for the traffickers, because the money is conditioned with the safe arrival of the victims.
A group of up to 29 refugees includes women and children have reportedly been transferred to Bhasan Char island in the Bay of Bengal by the Bangladesh authorities. They are believed to be part of a larger group of up to 350 refugees, of whom A small boat carrying 43 people manage to land on coast while others are still stranded at sea.
Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims, including children, have arrived at “a de facto detention island” in Bangladesh after being stranded at sea for weeks.
Rights groups had warned that the refugees, who had been turned away from other countries in the region, were at risk of starvation and abuse by people traffickers. It is believed that other boats remain adrift.
Bangladesh confirmed on Thursday that a boat carrying 280 people was being towed to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited silt island off the southern coast. The country’s foreign minister, Abdul Momen, had earlier said that refugees rescued at sea would be sent to the island to prevent any risk of spreading the coronavirus to the sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar, where a million Rohingya live in cramped conditions.
Bangladesh, which has struggled to cope with the camps, planned to start moving refugees to Bhasan Char last December, and has built rows of concrete barracks to house about 100,000 people. The relocation was put on hold following an outcry from Rohingya community leaders and international agencies.
Human rights groups say the island, which can be reached only by a three-hour boat journey, has no access to basic services and is vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surges.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said there was no need to send refugees to the island to be quarantined because the UN’s refugee agency and other bodies had facilities set up for this purpose in Cox’s Bazar. Instead, families should be reunited with missing relatives as quickly as possible.
“While everyone is appreciative that Bangladesh has brought forsaken Rohingya boats ashore, arbitrarily branding the passengers as ‘new arrivals’ and packing them off to a de facto detention island like Bhasan Char is not a rights respecting solution,” he said.