Thursday, February 25, 2010

European Parliament delegation visits Burmese refugee camp

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 16:33

Ukhiya, Bangladesh: A high level delegation of the European Parliament visited the Kutupalong registered Burmese refugee camp yesterday, at about 10 am. They saw the situation in the official camp and unofficial makeshift camp, which is situated near the official Kutupalong camp where over 45,000 Arakanese refugees live under the open sky, said a refugee elder from the camp on condition of anonymity.

The thirteen - member delegation of the European Parliament accompanied by country representative of United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), Camp-in-Charge, police personnel and other officials of different NGOs paid a visit to the Burmese refugee camps.

A refugee from the camp said that Fazalay Rabbe, the Camp-in-Charge of Kutupalong registered camp summoned all block committee and camp committee members to the office and kept them there till the delegation left the camp. The block committee members were unable to talk to the delegation about the camp situation.

Meanwhile, some Arakanese Rohingya refugees, including women, holding aloft banners marched to the delegation in the camp demanding immediate and a durable solution and permission for their children’s education.

After the delegation left the camp, the Camp officer Fazalay Rabbe ordered the block and camp committee members to collect the banners, being held aloft by refugees in front of the delegation. If the committee members did not comply with the order, they would be arrested and sent to jail, refugees said.

This was similar to an incident in 1997 in the refugee camps. The camp authorities had called all the camp leaders, who were made to wait in the office room and could not talk to the delegation, which visited the refugee camp. However, some refugees talked to the delegation secretly and gave applications to them regarding the refugees’ situation. Being informed, later, those refugees were arrested by camp authorities and sent to jail.

One of the refugee Majis (leader)  named Shamshu Alam, MRC #  6,610, Block # B of Kutupalong registered camp, was detained and beaten  up severely by the camp authority for exposing the situation of the camp to the delegation, after camp authority forbidden the refugees for not revealing  refugee problems  to them.

The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), police and Ansars beefed up security around the refugee camp for the delegation yesterday.

Refugees from the camp also shouted slogans holding banners saying that there is no security for refugees in Bangladesh. They demanded resettlement in third countries, said another refugee on condition of anonymity.

They left the Kutupalong registered camp at around 11:30 am. Then, they visited MSF and ACF clinics of the unregistered Kutupalong refugee camp where they give basic treatment to the unofficial camp inmates, said another refugee in the camp.

A new report released today by The Arakan Project states that an unprecedented crackdown by the Bangladesh government on Rohingyas from Burma is creating a grave humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of refugees.  The report “Unregistered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: Crackdown, forced displacement and hunger” calls on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately cease mass arrests and forced displacement of unregistered Rohingya asylum seekers and ensure that they are adequately protected and provided with access to food. Concurrently, anti-Rohingya movements among the local Bangladeshi population and the local media are fuelling xenophobia, calling for Bangladesh to rid itself of the Rohingya.

Over the last month and in Cox’s Bazaar District alone, hundreds of unregistered Rohingyas have been arrested, either pushed back across the border to Burma or sent to jail under immigration charges.  In several areas of the District, thousands were evicted with threats of violence.  Robberies, assaults and rape against Rohingyas have increased significantly.

After eviction or for fear of arrest and assault, thousands of self-settled Rohingyas have been forcibly displaced and most flocked to the Kutupalong makeshift camp for safety.  The makeshift camp population has now increased to over 30,000.  They do not receive food relief and cannot leave the camp to look for work or they could be arrested.   About 30,000 refugees in this camp are going hungry and are now at risk of starvation, the statement added.

“Hunger is spreading rapidly among the already malnourished population in the makeshift camp and a grave humanitarian crisis is looming.  Bangladesh must end this crackdown at once or these refugees will start dying from starvation,” said Chris Lewa, Director of the Arakan Project.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution [1] on February 11, calling on Bangladesh to recognize that the unregistered Rohingya are asylum seekers who fled persecution in Myanmar and are in need of international protection.  This week, a delegation of eight European Parliamentarians is conducting a fact-finding mission to examine the Rohingyas’ situation in Bangladesh.

“At present, the situation of refugees is very awful in the refugee camps.  We do not want to live here. We are not allowed to go out of the camp to work for supporting our family members. It is similar to a prison as well as we are unable to return to Burma. We did not get any support from any quarter. Now, we are facing with food crisis. Some refugees died with starvation. So, the delegation is requested to settle us to third countries,” said one of the refugee committee members on condition of anonymity.