HRW reports police harassing Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar

The checkpoint harassment is seemingly part of the authorities’ efforts to coerce refugees to relocate to Bhasan Char or to return to Myanmar, says the human rights watchdog

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said they received reports of five Rohingya refugees being beaten by members of Armed Police Battalion (APBn) and other officials at camp checkpoints over the past few day.

In a report published on Wednesday, the organization said that a 62-year-old Rohingya refugee was returning to her shelter in Kutupalong camp on May 7 after collecting food rations when she was stopped at a checkpoint with other Rohingya by officers from Bangladesh’s Armed Police Battalion (APBn), who refused to let them through. 

“The police officers suddenly became angry and started beating us with bamboo sticks.” She then remembered falling. “Some people were hurt. I injured my waist. I was eventually able to flee but lost my rations and ID,” she added

The human rights watchdog said authorities introduced a draconian permission application in two camps for movement within the camp areas, which some refugees compared to the oppressive conditions they faced back in Myanmar. 

The report said the crackdown followed the temporary detention of 656 Rohingya on May 4 and 5 for celebrating the Eid ul-Fitr holiday outside the camp, as well as months of worsening restrictions on Rohingya’s freedom to move, work, and study.

“We live in camps surrounded by barbed wire fencing, with no options for celebration, so we went to a nearby beach to celebrate Eid,” a Rohingya refugee said and added that they were detained, then charged Tk200-500 each for transportation back to camp.

Two Rohingya said the police beat them when they tried to get critical medicine for their parents. “My mother has ‘kala jaundice’ (hepatitis C),” one told HRW. “I was stopped by APBn when I went to the Lambasia checkpoint with her medical documents and prescription. The only way to buy the medicine is from a pharmacy outside the camp, but they didn’t allow me to leave. The APBn beat me, and I fled in fear.”

Governments have an international legal obligation to ensure medical care for refugees at least equivalent to that available to the general population.

The checkpoint harassment is seemingly part of the authorities’ efforts to coerce refugees to relocate to the remote island of Bhasan Char or to return to Myanmar, said the report. 

Donors funding the refugee response, including the US, UK, and EU, should urge Bangladesh to reverse these harsh restrictions before the refugees’ lives closely mirror the constraints and harassment they fled, claimed the bulletin.