Monday, January 07, 2008

Accessing Rights as Citizens: The Camp-based Urdu Speaking Community in Bangladesh

Report from Refugee And Migratory Movements Research Unit
Edited by Shabnoor Sultana

Policy Brief I

Coping with Riverbank Erosion Induced Displacement
This policy brief is based on a study titled Coping with Displacement: Riverbank Erosion in Northwest Bangladesh by C R Abrar and S N Azad. The study was commissioned by RDRS, Bangladesh and was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, Dhaka.
Each year tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh are made internally displaced through riverbank erosion. The northwest region is particularly prone to such erosion. Riverbank erosion contributes immensely to the process of marginalisation of a large number of people, displacing households and adversely affecting their social and material circumstances.
Defining Characteristics of Displaced people
The Abrar and Azad research (2003) was based on in-depth interviews with 200 respondents who had the experience of displacement in the preceding 6 months. The majority were illiterate with large families.
Impact of Displacement: Gains and Losses
Some lost family members; others lost homes, crops, land, trees, poultary and livestock.Displacement increased violence within families and this led to increased divorce.In many cases, however, there was improved access to clean water, health care and education after movement and some experienced an improvement in income and livelihood.
Coping Mechanisms and Survival Strategies
Riverbank erosion is very unpredictable. It can cause vast and rapid destruction or at times can be deceptively slow process contributing to state of denial. This hinders strategizing for movement.
Short term coping mechanisms
The households experiencing riverbank erosion first send away their women members and children to safely. Those that had access to boats and manpower could move their belongings while others would lose everything. Households in most cases extended help to one another
Long term survival strategies
Credit and loans played a vital role in the communityu during distress situations. Many took loans from neighbours or relatives. Credit from banks was not easily accessible for most of the affected people as the ownership of land was a precondition for loans.
Impact on Women
The ultimate burden of managing housrholds through the many phases associated with riverbank erosion fell disproportionately on women. Food insecurity, lack of access to safe drinking water and health affected the women in gender specific ways. Female-specific problems included meeting demands for dowry that led to early marriage, lack of privacy, sexual abuse and abandonment. Empowerment processes were also at work for the displaced women. Women gained more say in decision making at home and move to public sphere.
Institutional Responses

Government: The government programmes are often inadequate, disorganized, ineffective and adhoc.
NGOs : Very few national NGOs have specific programmes targeting those affected by riverbank erosion.

Policy and Programme Recommendations
The government of Bangladesh should include riverbank erosion in its five year plan and in its framing of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
Needs Based Policy Recommendations

Phase 1: Preparations
Early Warning System
Phase 2: Disaster Management
Phase 3: Rehabilitation
Phase 4: Livelihood Management
NGOs should:
1. Reorient their activities to target men, women and children in education and skills development.
2. Support community counselling on womens rights.
Rights Based Policy Recommendations
Affected people should be encouraged to demand access to education, health care, water, sanitation, and work opportunities as a matter of right, not as charity by the state. Institutions need to begin seeing the mitigation process as a matter of right of the affected people. They need to be viewed as agents rather than simply subjects of rehabilitation programmes. Only by constant promotion of their rights, can their interests be protected.

Policy Brief II

This policy brief is based on a study entitled Identity, Rights and Citizenship: The Camp Based Urdu Speaking Community in Bangladesh by CR Abrar and Victoria Redcliff. It identifies some of the present barriers to effective citizenship, examining the community hopes, fears, and aspirations, and recommends the steps that need to be taken to finally address a situation that has been ignored far too long.
With the liberation of Bangladesh in 1972, the majority of the Urdu-speakers in the country applied for so-called repatriation to Pakistan trough the ICRC. But in the last 36 years, Pakistan has made no move to take in them in, so that these people have become forced migrants in Bangladesh, with no access to citizenship rights there.
Camp Conditions
The 116 Bihari settlements are located largely in urban areas in 13 districts across the country, all under conditions of severe overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lacking basic facilities.
Current Barriers to Effective Citizenship
The Abrar-Redcliff study found that an overwhelming 90% of camp-residents in Saidpur and the capital now desire Bangladeshi citizenship. This desire is 100% amongst 18-25 year olds. However, despite legal pronouncements by the Supreme Court, they remain unable to access many of the opportunities associated with citizenship.
Not only are they denied all government positions but due to their camp address and unidentified status, wider discrimination in the job market remains a prime concern.
Camp address together with the lack of resources for school fees or materials, educational facilities thus remain inaccessible to the majority.
Without legal support the Urdu-speaking community remains vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Camp residents report Bengalis being given priority in hospital waiting lines or Biharis being made to pay speed money in government clinics.
Voting Rights
Urdu-speakers now established outside of the camps have largely gained access to voting rights. Camp residents, however remain skeptical about actually being able to vote
Property Rental/Bank Accounts/Passports
Access to Property Rental/Bank Accounts/Passports is difficult for Urdu-speakers.
Constant Threat of Eviction
Despite the overwhelming desire for Bangladeshi citizenship, fear of eviction from the camp if citizenship is formally announced is a very real concern among many residents, and an issue that generates a good deal of confusion among the community.
Facilitating Future Progress
Effective citizenship accompanied with rehabilitation and integration is important to counter discrimination.
Social Responsibility
It is not only the state, but the entire framework of Bangladeshi society which needs to be held responsible for the Urdu-speaking community marginalization, as illustrated below.
NGOs have so far remained unconnected with the Bihari issue.
Mainstream Civil Society
Neglect on the part of mainstream civil society has increased the widespread ignorance of the plight of this disenfranchised group.
As the future success of the community is dependent on acceptance from the public at large, the role of the media is key.
The study concludes that the following measures need to be taken if current obstacles to community development are to be addressed:
1. Community mobilization and information /awareness-raising
2. Mobilizing Bengali Society
3. Public Announcements of Status
4. Reintegration with dignity
The above activities will provide some of the short-term momentum necessary to mobilize public opinion. The associated activities will contribute towards generating further debate and discussion, ultimately contributing to the process.

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