Bangladesh Army Chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed said this week that a plan to surround the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar with barbed wire fences and guard towers was “in full swing.” The plan is the latest in a series of policies effectively cutting off more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees from the outside world. The refugees have been living under an internet blackout for more than 75 days.
Bangladesh is struggling to manage the massive refugee influx and the challenges of handling grievances from the local community, yet there is no end in sight because Myanmar has refused to create conditions for the refugees’ safe and voluntary return. But fencing in refugees in what will essentially be open-air prisons and cutting off communication services are neither necessary nor proportional measures to maintain camp security and are contrary to international human rights law.
Humanitarian aid workers reported the internet shutdown has seriously hampered their ability to provide assistance, particularly in responding to emergencies. The fencing will place refugees at further risk should they urgently need to evacuate or obtain medical and other humanitarian services.
Refugees told Human Rights Watch the fencing will hinder their ability to contact relatives spread throughout the camps and brings back memories of restrictions on movement and the abuses they fled in Myanmar.
The internet shutdown has already hampered refugees’ efforts to communicate with relatives and friends still in Myanmar, which is critical for gaining reliable information about conditions in Rakhine State to determine whether it is safe to return home.
The Bangladesh government should immediately stop its plans to curtail refugees’ basic rights or risk squandering the international goodwill it earned when it opened its borders to a desperate people fleeing the Myanmar military’s brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.