Rights groups urge Bangladesh to improve living conditions in Rohingya refugee camps
© Wikimedia (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Rights groups urge Bangladesh to improve living conditions in Rohingya refugee camps

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] expressed concern [press release] Monday for Rohingya refugees living in refugee camps in Bangladesh amidst reports of the government’s potential plan to move the refugees to an island.

A second statement [press release] from HRW Monday called for Bangladesh to move refugees to safer ground and relocate refugees to areas where they can have more living space and better quality of life.

Almost a million refugees live in the Cox Bazar area of Bangladesh following their escape from Myanmar. It is currently monsoon season in the country and heavy rains pose a threat to the temporary structures built on the clay soil on slopes in Cox Bazar. In Cox Bazar, the refugees face danger from landslides on the slopes and water-borne diseases. Refugee camps, according to human rights experts, should allow for a density of 45 square feet per person, and the Cox Bazar averages 11 square feet per person, making the potential impact from landslides and disease capable of reaching higher fatality rates. The proposed island move would isolate the refugees and put them in a highly flood-prone area that during a cyclone could cause the island to be completely submerged. The island would also have very little access to health services and education.

HRW suggests that Bangladesh government relocate refugees to nearby land that is safer, would provide more living space, and still along the border encouraging an eventual return to Myanmar once the situation is resolved. The Bangladesh government has said that they cannot accommodate more land as the refugees are already in protected forest areas.

The refugees have still expressed the desire to return to Myanmar once they are granted citizenship, justice, the return of their property, and guaranteed safety and acknowledgment of their rights. HRW expressed that the best course of action is for the international community to keep putting pressure on Myanmar to allow for the return of the refugees. Recently in June, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights issue in Myanmar called for an International Criminal Court investigation into the abuses against the Rohingya community in Myanmar, and the UN was able to sign an agreement [JURIST reports] with Myanmar that is a step toward accepting refugees back into the country.