By SIMON ROUGHNEEN
IRRAWADDY, BANGKOK — The Bangladesh authorities have renewed arrests and pushback of Rohingya refugees in the days following the departure of a European parliamentary (MEP) delegation from the region bordering Burma.
This comes despite a resolution asking that the arrests and deportations be ended and similar calls from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the ground.
According to The Arakan Project, 68 Rohingya have been arrested by the Bangladeshi police and security forces since the MEPs left the country. Eight persons were put in jail with the remainder sent back to Burma, in violation of the principle of non refoulement which says that refugees should not be sent back to the country from where they fled without their consent and without guarantees for their security and rights
Arakan Project Director Chris Lewa told The Irrawaddy, “After the MEPs left, makeshift camp residents felt more secure and started going out of the camp to find work.” However, it appears that a police checkpoint that had been removed during the MEP visit was reinstalled in the meantime, and arrests have resumed.
Of the more than 230,0000 Rohingya thought to have fled to Bangladesh from Burma, only 28,000 are registered as refugees.
The UN refugee agency is restricted to working with those refugees recogized by Dhaka. Speaking to The Irrawaddy, spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey said that UNCHR does not have a presence along the border and is unable to verify the arrests and push-backs since the MEP departure.
European parliamentarians and NGOs had previously called on the Bangladeshi government to cease “an unprecedented crackdown” on Rohingya refugees, now settled outside the two official camps in Cox’s Bazaar District near the Burmese border.
In recent months, around 30,000 Rohingya have gathered to form an unofficial camp at Kutupalong in the impoverished Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh. They have sought safety in numbers to evade arrest and deportation back into Burma.
According to The Arakan Project, the MEP delegation visited Kutupalong official camp and the makeshift camp on the morning of Feb. 15 amid tight police security. They first toured the official refugee camp, before meeting with some makeshift camp residents. In the unofficial camp, refugees handed over petitions to the parliamentarians, despite warnings from the security forces not to attempt any form of demonstration. The group left Bangladesh on Feb. 17.
When approached by The Irrawaddy for an interview, the MEP delegation was unavailable to speak. However, an official pointed out that a European parliamentary resolution adopted on Feb. 11 stated that the government of Bangladesh must “immediately cease arrests, push-backs and forced displacement of the unregistered Rohingya population.” The resolution urged Dhaka “to recognize that the unregistered Rohingya are stateless asylum seekers who fled persecution in Myanmar [Burma] and are in need of international protection; and to provide them with adequate protection, access to livelihood and other basic services.”
Some analysts believe that the Rohingya refugee issue must be resolved first and foremost within Burma, where they are not recognized as an ethnic group and denied citizenship.
McKinsey told The Irrawaddy that “the root of the Rohingya problem lies in Myanmar,” but added that “the government has asked UNHCR to expand our work in the region, so people do not feel that they have to leave the country.” Since April 2009, the UN refugee agency has supplemented its work in northern Rakhine state to include bridge and hostel construction projects which aim to make life easier for Rohingya.
UNHCR helped issue about 36,000 ID cards in 2007 to Rohingya in Burma, said McKinsey.
“In 2008, and 2009, the government continued without our help to cover about 75 percent of eligible residents but has not provided us with updated figures,” she said.