Resurgence in abuse and displacement against Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

On Tuesday 14th July 2009, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) witnessed a group of around 30 police with local officials enter Kutupalong makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, and destroy 259 homes, looting people’s possessions in the process. The building material from the destroyed homes was then removed into the official United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) camp, immediately adjacent. Other residents of the makeshift camp were told that they have 48 hours to clear their homes or they will be burnt down.

The incident is another in a series of aggressive and abusive moves by the authorities against the makeshift camp dwellers. In late June, thousands of people were forcibly displaced from their homes, some of them by acts of violence. During this time MSF treated numerous people for injuries in its clinic at the makeshift camp, the majority of who were women and children.

 “The systematic use of intimidation, violence and forcible displacement against residents of the makeshift camp is absolutely unacceptable”, says MSF Head of Mission Bangladesh Paul CRITCHLEY, “This vulnerable population has fled persecution and discrimination in Myanmar, only to be left unrecognized and unassisted in Bangladesh. They have gathered in Kutupalong, one of many unofficial makeshift camps to have formed in recent years, to seek refuge and in turn found only fear and abuse”. 

Officials claim to be clearing areas of the makeshift camp in order to create a 100ft buffer zone between the official UNHCR refugee camp and the makeshift camp. This zone has since increased, threatening the living space of thousands more people.  Unable to move onto the adjacent Forestry Department land, people are left with nowhere to live and nowhere to go.

A durable and dignified solution for the Rohingya must be found, not only in countries where they seek asylum but at their origin in Myanmar.

Sadly, such a desperate situation is nothing new to the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority originating from Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and suffer persecution and discrimination. Over the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to seek refuge abroad, however, few have been granted refugee status. The majority struggle to survive, unrecognized and unassisted in countries like Bangladesh and Thailand.

MSF has assisted people in Bangladesh since 1992, most recently setting up a basic healthcare program in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, assisting victims of Cyclone Aila and implementing an emergency intervention to assist unregistered Rohingya in Kutupalong makeshift camp, with services also open to the host community.