Authorities in Bangladesh are surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps with barbed-wire fencing and watchtowers, turning them into what refugees and rights groups liken to a "prison." Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights says construction on some 28 kilometers of fencing is nearly complete around parts of the camps, which are home to some 900,000 Rohingya pushed out of Myanmar. Humanitarian workers fear the fencing could hamper aid delivery and block access to medical clinics. Bangladeshi officials say the fencing is a response to growing concerns about crime and gang violence; humanitarian groups say any security measures must be proportionate. "The civilian and humanitarian character of the camps must be maintained," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned in December.
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Tropical Cyclone Amphan unexpectedly intensified into a rare "Super Cyclonic Storm" on May 18—becoming the northern hemisphere's strongest tropical cyclone yet in 2020. Amphan made landfall two days later, leaving a trail of destruction along coastal areas both in India and Bangladesh, impacting tens of millions of people. At least 77 deaths in India and 25 in Bangladesh have been reported so far. Over three million people in both countries remain displaced from their homes, taking refuge in community shelters—obviously placing them at risk of contracting COVID-19. In India's West Bengal state, thousands of people evacuated from their homes are crammed inside buildings that were being used as COVID-19 quarantine centers, because there is no other shelter available. (ReliefWeb, The Watchers, ThirdPole)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled unanimously Jan. 23 that Myanmar (Burma) must take "provisional measures" to address the "ongoing risk of genocide" faced by the remaining Rohingya people within the country's borders. The ruling also ordered Myanmar to preserve evidence of killings and to make regular reports to the court. This decision arises as part of the ongoing dispute between The Gambia and Myanmar regarding allegations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Gambia brought a complaint to the ICJ in November and the trial officially commenced in December with oral arguments from the two sides. The Gambia requested that the ICJ institute "provisional measures" against Myanmar to ensure the protection of the Rohingya people during the trial and to preserve evidence. The court found that given the inherent gravity of genocide allegations and the prima facie evidence already presented, provisional measures were necessary to preserve the rights of the Rohingya currently remaining in Myanmar.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 3 that the Bangladesh government is violating the right to education of nearly 400,000 school-age Rohingya refugee children by barring UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs from providing the children with any formal, accredited education. The Bangladesh government's policy prevents Rohingya from integrating into the local Bangladeshi society. In furtherance of this policy the government bars Rohingya children from enrolling in schools in local communities outside the camps or taking national school examinations. According to HRW, the Bangladesh government is violating its international obligations to ensure the right to education under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights treaties, and its obligation to the integration of refugee children into national education systems under the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees.
Human rights groups, together with the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), filed a criminal lawsuit in Argentina on Nov. 13, alleging that the government and military of Burma, including State Counsellor (and de facto leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, have committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the ethnic Rohingya minority. The complaint includes numerous accounts of mass killings, rapes and torture committed by government forces against Rohingya communities. The suit was filed with the Argentine federal courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that any country can prosecute for certain grave crimes regardless of whether the crimes were committed within that country's territory.
Rights groups say there's a "climate of intense fear" in the Bangladesh refugee camps for Rohingya who have fled Burma, following the killings of six refugees by police officers. Police officials say the men were involved in the murder of a local Bangladeshi man and killed in "crossfires"; critics say such language is often used to cover up extrajudicial killings. Tensions with the host community in southern Bangladesh have risen over the last two years as the refugee emergency evolves into a long-term crisis. This week, six UN rights watchdogs warned of escalating restrictions in the refugee camps following the Bangladeshi man's murder, a failed attempt to kickstart refugee returns to Burma, and a large protest marking two years since more than 700,000 Rohingya were forced out of Burma. What the watchdogs call a "sudden crackdown" includes a ban on mobile phone services, suspensions of some NGOs working in the camps, and renewed discussions on surrounding the massive camps with barbed-wire fences. Most Rohingya say they want to return to Burma if their safety and citizenship are guaranteed. But a UN rights probe released this week noted that little has changed in the Rohingya homeland of Rakhine State: "If anything, the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar [Burma] is worse," investigators reported.