Friday, July 27, 2012

Introduction for the III Edition, 2012

Anuradha Gunarathne

With the theme of 2012 “Refugees have no choice. You do” the World Refugee Day was celebrated in June by the UNHCR and most of the countries in the world honours the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. According to the estimate of the UNHCR more than 43 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide.

In the official statement on the refugee day by UN Secretary - General Ban Ki-moon expressed that "We must work together to mobilize the political will and leadership to prevent and end the conflicts that trigger refugee flows. [...] Despite budget constraints everywhere, we must not turn away from those in need. Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help."

The third edition of RWO draws attention on refugee issues marking the refugee day 2012 and the task remains on UN refugee day. In the section of Perspective Arani Sanyal and Anwesha Sengupta write about famous Arul Varma’s judgment on Rights of Refugees; Emdadul Haque on Opinion of South Asian frame work of refugee protection and Srabani Mia on Bangladesh’s obligation for the protection of refugees.

The book ‘The Plight of the Stateless Rohingyas: Responses of the State: Society & the International Community’ published by University Press Limited, Dhaka, Bangladesh has been edited by Imtiaz Ahmed (co-written by Delwar Hossain, Shahab Enam Khan and Md. Faridul Alam) is reviewed by Priyanca Mathur Velath in the section of review.

In the news section, reports the Bangladesh rejection of international appeals of Rohingya Refugees and President Barack Obama’s administration announcement of policy directive to halt deportation of young immigrants. Finally the upcoming event section covers the information of 4th Asia Pacific Consultation on Refugee Rights to be held on 22-24 August, Seoul South Korea.

We welcome your comments and feedbacks.

Protection of Rohingya Refugees: Bangladesh Rejects International Appeals

Bangladesh continued to “push back” the Rohingyas feeling sectarian violence in the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar ruling out appeals from international communities and human rights organizations.

The Government of the United States, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) among others urged Bangladesh Government to open its border and allow the Rohingyas fleeing violence to get temporary refuge. The violence reportedly costs 80 lives.

At home the main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has also heavily criticized the government for not considering “humanitarian aspects of the Rohingyas.” Mainstream national human rights activists and civil society groups also urged the government to respect international humanitarian norms and allow the Rohingyas to take “temporary refuge.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based human rights watchdog had appealed to the Government of Bangladesh on 20 June 2012 for providing the “Rohingyas humanitarian assistance and grant them temporary refuge until it is safe for them to return home.”

“By closing its border when violence in Arakan State is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” Bill Frelick, Director of Refugee Programme at HRW, said in a press statement. (

However, Bangladesh government rejected all appeals concerning requests to open its border referring to “security concerns.” The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dipu Moni, at the National Parliament and public events said that Bangladesh has no obligation to provide refuge to the Rohingyas since it was not a party to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and it’s Protocol of 1968.

However, experts from the HRW and independent legal academics have different views; according to them, as a norm of customary international law, the Rohingyas deserve international protection while they are fleeing threats to their lives, and Bangladesh is expected to respect those international norms.

According to BBC reports, Bangladesh, until 6 July, has “pushed back” reportedly 900 Rohingyas.

Bangladesh has provided refuge to the Rohingyas in 1978 and during 1991-92. Still now, there are about 28,000 Rohingyas who are the residual of the latest influx. They are living in two official refugee camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazaar. Apart from that there are reportedly 200,000 to 500,000 Myanmar nationals, mainly the Rohingyas in Bangladesh without any legal status.

ERT’s Situation Report on Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh

The Equal Rights Trust (ERT), a London-based advocacy group has heavily criticized the governments in Myanmar and Bangladesh for their failure to protect the Rohingyas, an ethnic Muslim minority group of Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar (Burma).

The ERT has launched a report, Burning Homes, Sinking Lives: A Situation Report on Violence against Sstateless Rohingya in Myanmar and their Refoulement from Bangladesh. The report presents the findings and observations of ERT researchers who were on the fields. (

The report, which includes testimony collected from over 50 interviews with Rohingya in the period between 13 and 29 June 2012, paints an extremely bleak picture, which demands urgent action to prevent further human rights violations including loss of life, suffering, forced displacement and damage to property.
The report also reviews the legal obligations of the parties to this crisis and makes recommendations to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, the UNHCR and the international community.

The ERT recommendations to the Government of Myanmar for urgently taking all necessary steps to end the violence and protect all individuals in Myanmar; fully cooperates with UN agencies to enable independent monitoring of the situation and the provision of humanitarian assistance and support to affected communities; brings martial law in the region to an end as soon as possible; conducts an impartial and transparent enquiry into the causes of the violence; and reduces statelessness in Myanmar by establishing clear paths towards the acquisition of citizenship and effective nationality for all stateless persons including the Rohingya.

The report recommends to the Government of Bangladesh to open its borders to Rohingya refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar and refrains from refoulement or forcible return of all refugees, asylum seekers and persons of concern; fully cooperates with UN agencies and international NGOs to enable the provision of humanitarian assistance and support to all refugees; and fully cooperates with the international community in providing humanitarian support and protection in a fair and non-discriminatory manner to all long-term Rohingya refugees and persons of concern within Bangladesh.

Obama Holts Deportation of Young “Illegal Immigrants”

President Barack Obama’s administration has announced a policy directive on 15 June 2012 which is to halt deportation of young immigrants, who were brought to the US illegally as children.

The Administration also has announced that these young people may apply for authorization to work in the U.S. legally for the first time.

For this directive, an estimated 800,000 young people will be benefitted, as The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) has reported on 15 June (

“The administration has been under considerable pressure to take action on the behalf of young immigrants, as Congress has been sharply divided about the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that grants conditional residency to select young people brought to the US illegally,” the CSM reported.

The policy has been viewed as a “relief for thousands of young people who are caught in a difficult situation where they consider the United States home but don’t have legal residency.”

It is also considered as a political step-forward for President Obama with Latino voters, who have criticized the administration’s deportation policies.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has immediately praised President Obama’s announcement and hoped that the federal government immediately will halt the deportation of undocumented immigrant children and young adults who meet certain criteria.

USCRI operates a national program serving the legal and social needs of immigrant children, and fights for policies that respect their rights.

“We are very pleased with the bold and historic announcement by the White House today,” said Lavinia Limon, President and CEO of USCRI. “This policy decision for undocumented immigrant children and young adults is humanitarian, compassionate and practical, all at the same time. This is an important expansion of President Obama’s earlier order that prosecutorial discretion be exercised by government lawyers in non-priority deportation cases. It should allow hundreds of thousands of young people to come out of the shadows and become full participants in our society. I also hope the President’s action today will inspire Congress to find needed, permanent solutions for the other hardworking undocumented migrants who live among us.”

June 15, 2012, (

Rights of a Refugee. The Court as Refuge

Arani Sanyal and Anwesha Sengupta

Say this city has a million souls,
Some live in mansions, some live in holes:
Yet there is no place for us,
My dear, there is no place for us,
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you will find it there:
We cannot go there now,
My dear, we cannot go there now.

W.H. Auden, ‘Refugee Blues’

Being a Tamil in Sri Lanka had been increasingly difficult since 1980s when the country witnessed intense civil war between the government and LTTE, the most important Tamil militant organisation. The war had killed thousands, forced millions of Tamils to migrate to India and caused massive hardship for the people, economy and the environment of the country. Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka arrived in India in four waves. Among them, one was Chandra Kumar who fled to India in 1990 as the second Elam War began. After spending around two decades in India, he decided to go to Italy in search of a better life. However, he was arrested by the immigration officers as he did not have valid travel documents. He was charged for committing the offences of cheating, impersonation and forgery r/w/s 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946. He spent six months in judicial custody before he was brought to the court. There, Chandra Kumar admitted his crime, but claimed that he committed them unknowingly, being duped by a travel agent. If he was an Indian citizen, in all probability he would have set free, after spending 6 months in judicial custody. But his status was complicated because of his refugee identity. The government wanted this man to be deported to Sri Lanka for his offence. This position was based on the Government Order F.No. 25019/3/97 – F.III dated 2.7.1998 of the Foreign Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, which stated that a foreigner is to be deported from India in case s/he commits any offence.

For Chandra Kumar, deportation would mean going back to Sri Lanka. Of course, Kumar was unwilling to make this return trek to his homeland, as he feared persecution. The counsel of the convict tried to revoke the verdict. He pointed out that according to the principle of non-refoulement of Customary International Law; Indian government had no right to deport him to Sri Lanka as his life was not safe there.1 And, the Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India states that ‘the State shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised people with one another.’ According to the Indian Constitution too, the government is bound to protect the life and liberty of all citizens and non-citizens alike (article 21). The counsel also referred to numerous other judgments delivered by various High Courts of India, where the High Courts have stopped the deportation proceedings on humanitarian grounds. Since, Kumar, had done nothing that might have threatened the security of the country, he ought not to be deported, argued the Counsel. He requested the court to allow his client consult UNHCR, Delhi to avert deportation.

After listening to both the sides, Arul Varma, a metropolitan magistrate of New Delhi (Special Court No 2, Dwarka Courts), gave his verdict in favour of Chandra Kumar. Recognising the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, he accepted that Chandra Kumar indeed had a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ (wherein he stated that such possibility must appear to be reasonable and the refugee need not show that persecution will result on deportation) in case he was sent back to Sri Lanka. Therefore, deportation would mean a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which was ‘a cornerstone of basic human rights’. Though India is not a party to the 1954 Convention or its optional protocol relating to status of refugees (1967), the principle of non-refoulment is implicit in the Article 21 of Indian Constitution, opined Arul Varma. He cited a particular verdict (Louis De Raedt Vs. Union of India, AIR 1991 SC 1887) of the Supreme Court which stated that this Article, which guarantees that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law, was valid for citizens and non-citizens alike. Similarly, citing another case, the judge argued that every person, irrespective of his/her nationality, should be considered as equal before the law and the state should protect his/her life and liberty. Since persecution denies the right to live with dignity, deportation of Chandra Kumar to Sri Lanka would mean denial of Article 21. To quote Arul Varma: ‘By handling over a person to a nation where he fears persecution, would make us nothing short of abettors in that persecution’. Also, Varma questioned the definition of ‘foreigner’ in the 1946 Foreigners Act, where a foreigner was defined as a non-citizen of India, and therefore included refugees within its ambit. He stressed on the need of treating the refugees in a humane way and to consider them as a separate category different from tourists or illegal migrants as otherwise, refugees would be deprived of privileges available under numerous international instruments. The Court opined that treating refugees, and illegal migrants on the same footing as the Foreigners Act does, would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which mandates equality before the law. (A logical extension of this is that unequals are to be treated unequally by applying the principle of ‘intelligible differentia’) Also, a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ includes, within its scope, a fear of being subject to torture and since India is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984, should ideally be bound by its international commitment to follow the principle of non-refoulement.

The judge applied a liberal interpretation of Constitutional tenets to accommodate refugees’ rights under Article 21 and went as far as to say that a law (The Foreigners Act, 1946) which treats persons unequally circumstanced at par, is on the face of it unconstitutional. He also laid emphasis on the non-derogability of the principle of non-refoulement and more importantly, by citing Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan, 1997 (6) SCC 241, he noted that in case of a void in domestic law, it was the Court’s prerogative to fill such void by taking recourse to international law. (Something which the Court actually did in this case)


1. Non-refoulement is a principle of the international law, i.e. of customary and trucial Law of Nations which forbids the rendering a true victim of persecution to their persecutor; persecutor generally referring to a state-actor (country/government). See

Bangladesh’s Obligation for the Protection of Refugees

Srabani Mia
[Is an LL.M. Student at Stamford University Bangladesh and an Intern at the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies in Dhaka]

A person becomes a refugee because of circumstances that are beyond her/his control. Refugees are human beings.

Bangladesh is the host country of asylum seekers and refugees, mainly from Myanmar (Burma). It has been hosting the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority from Myanmar for decades.

As per records of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, there are around 28,000 Rohingyas who are “officially recognized refugees” now living in two camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazaar. They are the residual of recorded 258,800 Rohingyas who fled Myanmar during 1991-92 and took refuge in Bangladesh. Apart from that there are reportedly 300,000 to 500,000 Myanmar nationals, mainly the Rohingyas in Bangladesh without any status.

Though, Bangladesh does not have a national legislation to deal with asylum seekers and refugees, however, the State has registered and granted “refugee status” once to those 258,800 Rohingyas through an “executive order” 1991. By the time, UNHCR was invited and it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government and mandated to look after the protection issues.

Bangladesh is also not a party to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol. Despite of that the state has been providing refuge to the Rohingyas along with tolerating their “illegal presence.”

However, recent denial by the Bangladesh Government of extending any refuge to the Rohingyas fleeing communal violence in the Northern Rakhine State, and apparent “push back” have created concerns among the human rights organizations and international communities.

Obligation of Bangladesh Under International Law

The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are basic legal instruments with regard to protection of refugees.

The 1951 Convention provides criteria to be recognized as a refugee, their rights and obligations, and visa vie obligations of State parties.

Under 1951 Convention, a person can claim refugee status with three conditions: (i) being out of the country, (ii) well-founded fear of persecution for specific grounds, and (iii) unable or unwilling avail protection from the government of the country of origin. And, the specified grounds are of persecution are based on one’s race, religion, nationality, membership of special group, and political opinion.

The Convention (Article 33) also provides the principle of non-refoulement- meaning no person shall be return to a territory where he/she may be exposing to persecution. This principle is now considered as part of international customary law and is widely practiced (including Bangladesh in previous years, even for the Rohingyas).

The Principle has indeed expanded State's protection obligations beyond the 1951 Refugee Convention framework; therefore, one cannot be returned to his or her country of origin; hence, contributing to deprivation of life, and putting forward to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Generally, those countries which are parties to the Refugees Convention are legally bound to follow all the provisions thereof.

Bangladesh, despite of not being a party to the Refugee Convention is expected to respect the principle of non-refoulement as part of customary international law, as argued by Mostafa Mahmud Naser, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Chittagong in his article published in The Daily Star on 23 June 2012 (link: According to this academic, who is now pursuing his doctoral research at Australia’s Macquarie University, Bangladesh has obligation to asylum seekers and refugees despite of not ratifying the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol as because it is a member to the United Nations and is thus obliged to protect and promote human rights. Apart from that Bangladesh is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 (CAT) among other human rights isnstruments.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), guarantees for “…right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The UDHR is consider as jus cogens, thus those rights are universally accepted and enforced by all parties despite of whether they are party to the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol.

Bangladesh has also obligation under Article 3 of CAT (non-return of a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture).”

In case of the Rohingays, it is very likely that they would be targeted for torture, inhuman and degrading treatment upon pushed back to Myanmar which is tantamount to persecution.

Also, persecution by “non-state actors” (in presence of apparent reluctance or inability by State actors to prevent or/and prosecute such persecution) does qualify one for a refugee status under refugee law.

Obligation Under National Laws

Though Bangladesh does not have any national law as such to deal with asylum seekers and refugees; however, some Constitutional provisions are instrumental in protecting and promoting their rights.

Article 25 of the Constitution states that “…State shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for .... international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter”.

Article 31 of the Constitution provides for equal protection of law for “each citizen” and “every other persons staying in the country for time being.” Thus, the Article extends protection the asylum seekers and refugees (non-citizen) who for the time being are staying in the country.

The Constitution also guarantees for right to life and personal liberty for all (Article 32).

The Supreme Court of India has also upheld “right to life and personal liberty” for refugees in India despite of the State not being a party to the 1951 Convention [National Human Rights Commission v.The State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996 (SC) AIR 1234)].

The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni has reportedly said in the National Parliament that: “ it is not in the country's best interest to allow more Rohingyas into the country while Bangladesh is already burdened with Rohingya refugees, and many of them are involved in subversive and militant activities.”

This generalized branding of Rohingya population in Bangladesh does not relieve the State from its international obligations.

Opinion: South Asian Framework for Refugee Protection

Emdadul Haque
[Is a Faculty Member at the Department of Law and Justice, Southeast University, Dhaka, Bangladesh]

Amid scores of shortcomings the South Asian region has been generous to host a large number of refugees for decades and accommodating them despite the absence of a related legal framework.

The region is rapidly growing as a “refugee melting pot” with insufficient international attention. All the original member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) (except the newly joined Afghanistan) did not ratify the UN Convention Relation to the Status of Refugees, 1951 (Refugee Convention) and it’s Protocol of 1967.

The problems of refugees in Europe, America, Australia and Asia particularly in South Asia are not alike. The lack of national laws and regional instruments on refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) has grossly accentuated this crisis which not only harms the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, but also affects the social and political stability of host countries by undermining the rule of law, human rights, and democracy.

These countries are being assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which includes ensure protection of asylum seekers and refugees and promotion of international refugee law standards vise vie promotional activities for adoption of national legal framework in line with international standards. However, the reluctance of respective governments in ratifying the Refugee Convention or adopting national legal framework and complexities of refugee issues with regional dimensions, there is a need to look into the prospect of a regional approach to address forced migration and refugee protection issues in South Asia region.

There are almost 43 million refuges all over the world and out of which 80 percent is based in developing countries. Although South Asia contains around 23 percent of the world's population, it currently hosts nearly 10 percent of the world's refugee population.

The Refugee Convention is the commanding instrument to govern international protection of refugees worldwide. This Euro-centric document promulgated soon after the World War II to cope with the influx of refugees in Europe have many limitations in the present context, though the Protocol of 1967 had been adopted to overcome such inadequacy.

However, experts in the region find four major dilemmas in the Refugee Convention with regard to definition of a refugee, material assistance, shared-responsibilities, and unraveling consensus in observing standards of international law.

The Refugee Convention has been the point of fierce contention for the developed and developing nations. The developed countries are tendering for a rights-based approach while developing countries on the other hand have been voicing their equitable approach. That’s why some prominent scholars feel that before acceding to the Refugee Convention or the Protocol of 1967, South Asian States should go ahead for adoption of a rights-based national legal framework to deal with asylum and refugee issues. At the same time, some scholars recommend that the states of the region should ratify the Refugee Convention and its Protocol without further delay.

However, as compared to many developed countries of the world who have adopted very strict entry procedures, States under SAARC have adopted rather soft policies on entry and stay of asylum seekers and refugees, e.g., Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. The States have also given shelter and other humanitarian relief to different groups fleeing persecution- who are victims of forced migration, including victims of natural disaster or people fleeing generalized violence, abuse of human rights by State and non-State actors, communal and ethnic strife and the victims of man-made ecological disasters. However, in some cases, there are reported incidences of refoulement- pushing back to the territory where lives of individual were at risks.

Since States in the regions, are apparently look upon cross-border migrations (including forced migration) as bilateral issues within the framework of national security, thus, time and again, the significance of international protection of a refugee is ignored. There is nothing in this regard within the framework of the SAARC Charter.

In the absence of laws concerning general treatment and protection of asylum seekers and refugees, the response to refugee influxes remains provisional or on ad hoc basis. The refugees here have no legal protection against summary expulsions as they are treated as illegal immigrants and not as refugees fleeing persecution. As a result, UNHCR has also not been able to ensure effective and meaningful protection to most refugees in the region. Even international humanitarian agencies are often not allowed to assist refugees in real crisis in most of these countries. This was evident once again in the treatment of “Rohingya boat people” in Bangladesh this time (June 2012). In case of India, it does not allow UNHCR staff to enter and work in the North East territory.

Many of these problems can be avoided both through the enactment of legal norms on entry procedure status and on the creation of rights for asylum seekers and refugees. There is an absence of an inter-governmental mechanism at the regional level for protecting the returnees in their home countries.

Thus absence of a legal framework results in arbitrary, provisional and discretionary decision making which undermines fair refugee protection as per international norms. The asylum seekers and refugees can end up being treated like any other foreigner.

Therefore, a legal structure is necessary to effectively deal with a complicated refugee problem. In the absence of a legal framework, respective activities of the governments vary from case to case and are determined by political considerations and bilateral negotiations. These do not provide predictable and durable solutions.
However, given the reluctances of Sates in adopting national laws to deal with asylum seekers and refugees, a regional framework needs to be considered.

Like African and American States, SAARC countries should initiate a regional framework for refugee protection paving the way for appropriate platform on the issue of refugee crisis demonstrating their commitment for a new comprehensive plan of action to this end as every nation in the South Asia has produced as well as received refugees.

This will contribute to establish transparency, fairness and a humane treatment of refugees, as a matter of fact, through these laws the states of South Asia will give a formal expression to existing practices and responses to the refugees.

Hopefully, that will inspire to adopt national legal framework in the same line. Having a national law would not only ensure the protection of refugees and uphold obligations enjoined by the constitutions of most of the countries it will also enable the States to discharge their international treaty obligations. Ultimately both the States and the asylum seekers will derive benefits from such laws. Adoption of a harmonized national law on refugees by all the countries of the region would be a first step towards seeking a regional solution to this problem.

It will also facilitate to establish human rights communities and other institutions of civil society- a basis to campaign against any violations of refugee rights.

4th Asia Pacific Consultation on Refugee Rights (APCRR4), from August 22-24th, 2012

This event will be hosted by the Asia Pacific Refugee Right Network(APRRN), Human Asia, the Graduate School of International Studies of Korea University and Hwajeong Peace Foundation, The Dong--‐AIbo.

The key objectives of the consultation are to provide a platform to share and show case experiences, best practices and strategies, to identify key priority areas for stakeholders, in order to expand protection spaces, and combat susceptibility to trafficking and people smuggling, to build the capacity of participants in issues such as immigration detention, legal aid, mental health, advocacy etc., to develop a stronger Network, better cooperation/collaboration amongst members and identify new potential members, to review and develop concrete joint actions plans, campaigns and strategies to be taken for the period 2012-2014 and to select a new Steering Committee for the period 2012-2014.

Review of The Plight of the Stateless Rohingyas: Responses of the State: Society & the International Community, Edited by Imitiaz Ahamed

Priyanca Mathur Velath

The month of June traditionally celebrates World Refugee Day. However the month of June in 2012 brought back international attention on one of the world’s “most persecuted and most forgotten” peoples, the Rohingyas, when communal clashes in western Myanmar claimed more than 60 lives, displaced more than 30,000 and forced hundreds to flee into the neighbouring state of Bangladesh. Since then Bangladesh has turned back more than 2,000 Rohingyas who tried to enter the country after the deadly sectarian violence between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in the Burmese Arakan state.1

Rohingya ‘boatpeople’ have for decades been leaving Myanmar and entering Bangladesh but discrimination and denial of citizenship has forced them to flee further. 2 The book being reviewed here is the outcome of a study carried out by Centre for Alternatives, Bangladesh, that brought together the efforts of both the students and faculty of the Universities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Jahangirnagar to relook at the condition of Rohingya refugees (both documented and undocumented) in Bangladesh. Underlying the enquiry is the hypothesis that “the Rohingya refugee crisis has been long ignored in the development discourse in Bangladesh”. As the book emphasises, “in tracing the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the study shows that the Rohingyas are both stateless and refugees.” (First they became stateless in their homeland and then eventually they had to embrace the status of refugeehood under the conditions of persecution, discrimination and torture) The crucial point of understanding is that the causes and conditions of their refugeehood are becoming almost identical.

The book ‘The Plight of the Stateless Rohingyas: Responses of the State: Society & the International Community’ 3 has been edited by Imtiaz Ahmed and co-written by Delwar Hossain, Shahab Enam Khan and Md. Faridul Alam. All Bangladesh based academics, the four authors have penned the chapters separately that together went into the making of this book. The Myanmar state has systematically denied the existence of the Rohingyas so much so that the word ‘Rohingya’ is not officially recognised in Myanmar. While tracing the historical origins of the Rohingya refugee migration in Bangladesh, Ahmed notes that the “patterns of refugee migration are a product of the interrelationship among the oppressive regimes in Myanmar, crisis in identity (ethnic, religious and political), and the lack of attention from the international community.” In the second chapter Delwar Hossain addresses the identity concerns of the second generation Rohingyas in Bangladesh by also asking if states can realistically respond to the challenges posed by the same.

Chapter three seeks to analyse the psychosocial dimensions of refugeehood while chapter four views the situation from the ‘security’ lens. It emphasises that security concerns are four dimensional (politico-military, economic, social and human) and that the responsibility of security must be shared by multiple actors viz., both country of origin and host country, both refugee populations and locals, by donor states, regional organisations, the UNHCR, its operational partners – all alike. But the essential understanding is that the relationship between refugees and the internal security of the state of Bangladesh is a complex one, further complicated by the reality that physical resemblance between Rohingyas and Bengalis which merges the demarcation between ‘legitimate and illicit political dissents’.

While chapter five, interrogating the role of Bangladesh in handling this refugee issue urges the Bangladesh government to adopt a national policy on refugees and provide a framework that addresses the repatriation needs, chapter six evaluates the actions of the international community in protecting their lives and ensuring the livelihoods. Shahab Enam Khan notes that the response of the international community is positive and proactive but there is still a lot of work to be done particularly with the undocumented Rohingyas living outside the camps, to address the continuing and increasing cross border flows. Mere humanitarian support will not be enough. In the next chapter Md. Faridul Alam observes a dichotomy in the involvement of non-state actors as the latter impact policy developments in the field of environment and human rights more than they impact refugee lives. Finally Ahmed, in the concluding chapter, lists tasks to be done by various stakeholders in the refugee discourse, laying out not “timescales in implementing the recommendations” but the “level of involvement.”

But with Rohingya refugees mere involvement will not provide solutions; the commitment to protect and secure the lives of this tragically displaced population demands serious accountability in actions from all concerned actors. While there is international condemnation of the Bangladeshi push-back of the fleeing Rohingyas there are voices within Bangladesh urging the government to provide temporary refuge. 4 Some within the academic community of Bangladesh have also been arguing that ‘opening doors to the Rohingyas is a duty not charity’ and that pushing the Rohingyas back is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. There is reiteration that the state of Bangladesh needs to frame a national law for refugees that would lay down basic principles of refugee treatment and set up necessary administrative structures to deal with situations such as the Rohingya inflow. “If proper procedures were in place the government’s reaction would not have been as reactive.” 5

The highlight of this compilation are the detailed evocative fifteen case studies of Rohingya refugees living in the Kutapalong and Nayapara refugee camps and in Chittagong, conducted by students of the Universities of Dhaka and Chittagong. Written in first person they are emotional accounts of personal histories of hope and despair, with equally emphatic titles like ‘Dream’, ‘Shame’, ‘The Void in a merciless world, ‘A moment of silence’, ‘Irony of fate’, ‘Denied from denied’, ‘We pass our days crying’, ‘I have nothing else to do’, ‘Better to kill us all by bombing’, ‘Living like insects’, ‘Son of the soils’, ‘We stay by crying’. They are narratives that underline that while trauma and traumatic memories continue to shape the Rohingya identity, so does the hope and dream of a future of return and freedom. The present and the future for these persecuted and forgotten people is one that all regional and international actors need to come together to protect, ensure and enshrine.


1. See - ‘Bangladesh: Stop Boat Push-backs to Burma’, Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2012 -
2. See – ‘Rohingya Boatpeople sentences on Immigration Charges’, June 22, 2012,
3. by University Press Limited, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2010.
4. See online petitions like
5. See CR Abrar, ‘Opening doors to Rohingyas: duty, not charity’, New Age, Dhaka, June 20, 2012,