Published on : Modified :
After a wave of fires that hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh in March 2021, groups of activists are mobilizing to remove the barbed wire and the fences surrounding them. Beyond symbolic violence, according to them, these installations endanger the lives of residents, restricting movement, especially in cases of danger, and are symptomatic of the Bangladeshi government’s new welcome policy towards them: pushing them to leave. by limiting their comfort.
Since March 2021 and a wave of fires that have killed at least 15 people, a collective has been created on Twitter to campaign against fences and barbed wire that the Bangladeshi government has built since the end of 2019 around several camps in the Cox’s Bazar region, where more than 800,000 Rohingyas have taken refuge since the persecution they suffered in Burma in 2017.
According to our Observers, these fences are intended to limit the movement of Rohingyas outside their camps, without however completely prohibiting them.
The countryside Remove The Fence (Remove the fence) published the calls of several personalities to dismantle these facilities, as well as several photos and videos documenting the danger they represent.
Despite the experience of the fire, barbed wire fencing is being even made more impregnable with razor wire.
During the devastating #Rohingya camp fire of March 22nd, people had to break down the pillars or make holes in the fence to escape. Razor wire will make this impossible. pic.twitter.com/XBxg4oiGhZ
– Remove The Fence (@RemoveTheFence) April 19, 2021
“We are like second-class humans who want to hide”
For Khin Maung, resident of Ukhia Camp 13 in Cox’s Bazar and founder of the Rohingya Youth Association (Rohingya Youth association), these fences turned the lives of refugees upside down when they began to appear at the end of 2019.
We can no longer move freely. When there was these fires, people were trying to escape and got stuck, getting hurt trying to get through them. Everything becomes more complicated, there are these fences and, at the entrance of the camp, a gate with guards, like a checkpoint.
The idea is to cut ourselves off from the rest of society. We feel like second-class humans who want to hide. We are grateful to the Bangladeshi government for hosting us in 2017, but we would like to be able to continue to enjoy our freedom. “
Several NGOs like Human Rights Watch they also denounced the installation of these fences. HRW considers them “discriminatory” and that they “violate most basic human rights and humanitarian needs”.
“They want to push them to the start”
Shafiur Rahman is a British-Bangladeshi journalist based in London. He has been working on the issue of Rohingya refugees for several years.
In 2019, the Bangladeshi government adopted a series of measures very restrictive for refugees. There was the installation of these fences, but also the shutdown of the Internet, the confiscation of SIM cards, the launch of the camp on Bashan Char Island [site inondable controversé où plus de 10 000 Rohingyas ont été installés, NDLR].
As for the fences, they didn’t just lock all the refugees together in a big compound, they separated some camps from each other. They are due to complete their construction in June 2021.
Before the fires, they were already a problem: some found themselves out of bounds and had to move, all the distances to travel were lengthened since they had to be bypassed, the inhabitants found themselves at the mercy of the goodwill of the guards who sometimes ask for bribes or inspect their phones. In particular, this caused a lot of worry for the elderly or pregnant women to go to the care structures.
Children who used to play outside find themselves playing very close to these fences which have in some places been poorly installed, and sometimes they are injured.
To justify their installation, the government mentions the safety of refugees, but clearly, it is with these fences that their safety is endangered. There was no consultation with the Rohingya community, nor with most of the NGOs present on the ground. We should build trust with the community, meet basic needs rather than treating these people like criminals.
In my opinion the government is doing this for internal political purposes, to respond to the growing negative sentiment of Bangladeshis against the Rohingya. They want to limit their comfort, push them to leave, knowing that it is impossible for them to return to Burma at the moment.
For several years, Bangladesh has been trying to negotiate with Burma so that the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas present in its territory can return to their country of origin. The last process in progress was stopped when the Burmese soldiers seized power on February 1, weakening the security situation in Burma.
According to the UN, the Rohingya are today one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.