Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Year : 2, Issue : 6
Around a million Rohingya refugees are living in huts made of bamboo and plastic in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. Most have fled ethnic and religious persecution in neighboring Myanmar.
Recent years have seen the security situation in the camps deteriorate, with crimes including sexual assault, abduction, extortion and murder becoming daily occurrences. The camps are rife with criminal gangs, as well as rebel Rohingya groups. Camp residents have also complained about abuses carried out by local law enforcement agencies.
Camp security forces accused of rape
A 22-year-old Rohingya woman living in the Balukhali refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar said a police officer from the Bangladesh Armed Police Battalion (APBn), who was part of a security deployment in the camp,
had been following her for several months.
She said that on the night of January 7, he entered her house under the pretext of a search operation and attempted to rape her. She was rescued by neighbors after she cried for help. The officer, along with two of his associates, left the scene when other refugees gathered to stop them.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also mentioned the incident in its recent report titled: Bangladesh police abuses rampant in Rohingya camps. It urged the Bangladeshi authorities to “promptly and impartially investigate the matter.”
Refugees find it difficult to get legal support
Several refugees told they were not able to file formal complaints or legal action in local police stations about alleged incidents of rape and murder by APBn members.
Abdul Gafur, a Rohingya refugee who has been staying at the Kutupalong camp for 34 years, told DW that the body of his 17-year-old daughter was recovered from a nearby hotel on the morning of August 2, 2022.
“My daughter was raped and killed on the night before. There were signs of torture all over her body. There were bite marks on her back, her lips were burned with lit cigarettes and her chest was completely broken,” Gafur told.
He alleged that three APBn members abducted his daughter from a garment factory of a nearby refugee camp where she had been working as a volunteer and “raped and killed her.”
However, Gafur was not able to file a formal police complaint or court case about the incident.
Perpetrators remain unpunished
A 27-year-old Rohingya woman, who has lived her whole life in a refugee camp, told that APBn members attempted to rape her last year when she was returning home from a hospital at night.
The mother of three children said she was taken to a police station from there and was tortured until she fell unconscious.
“I was later arrested on false charges and sent to jail for three months,” she told.
Another 18-year old Rohingya woman told that APBn members raped her in her hut at a refugee camp two years ago under the pretext of arresting her brother, and she has yet to receive justice.
“I was raped several times. I feel insecure in the camp. I urge the Bangladesh government to ensure our safety,” the woman told.
Every case the perpetrators had remained unpunished.
Victims lack confidence to open up
A rights activist Rezaur Rahman Lenin said the allegations of criminal activities involving police officers “are shocking but not surprising at all.”
“It is hard to identify any credible available statistics where law enforcement agency officials are involved in the sexual assaults of Rohingya women due to a lack of standard reporting processes and practices inside the camps and a scary environment,” Lenin told.
“Victims often are worried about not being able to provide enough proof, further victimization after lodging complaints, as well as judicial harassment and so on. These factors keep them away from seeking justice,” he added.
Refugee chief insists legal support is available
Refugee commissioner Rahman told DW that there are several ways to file complaints, and that they are available to refugees.
“Many organizations help refugees to file cases. Bangladesh has permitted them to do so. UNHCR, as a protection agency, works there along with its partners. Bangladeshi legal aid organizations, including BLAST, are active in the camps. They provide legal support to the refugees,” he told.
The refugees claimed the reality on the ground is different, as reporting an incident to those organizations rarely produces any results.
Rights group demands more action
Human Rights Watch noted in its report that Bangladeshi police have indeed received training to strengthen gender-responsive policing.
“But unless the government and donors to these programs ensure that security forces responsible for abuses are credibly prosecuted, sexual assault and other serious crimes will persist,” the rights organization said.