Bangladesh

Not Available

Immigration detainees

2019

Not Available

Detained children

2017

5

New asylum applications

2019

854,779

Refugees

2019

2,185,613

International migrants

2019

Overview

Bangladesh hosts a large population of refugees and migrants, the vast majority of whom are Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who are housed in large refugee camps located in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasn Char island. These camps face enormous congestion and require enormous international humanitarian assistance, while also being the subject of considerable criticism from observers, in particular Bhasan Char. Asylum seekers and refugees from other countries are not officially recognised as the country does not have an institutionalised asylum system nor has it adopted the UN Refugee Convention.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

06 January 2021

Rohingya Refugees Aboard Bound for Bhasan Char in December 2020, (Mohammad Ponir,
Rohingya Refugees Aboard Bound for Bhasan Char in December 2020, (Mohammad Ponir, "Bangladesh Move More Rohingyas To Remote Island Despite Rights Concerns," The Guardian, 28 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/28/bangladesh-moves-more-rohingyas-to-remote-island-despite-rights-concerns)

On 5 January, journalist Shiafur Rahman reported the first death at the controversial Rohingya refugee centre on Bangladesh’s Bhasan Char island in the Indian Ocean. Rahman also reported the introduction of new restrictions of movement for those at the centre, which were supposedly introduced after an escape attempt. Refugees reportedly now require permission to go to the market on the island and there appear to be police patrols throughout the night.

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has made several large movements of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char despite safety and security concerns raised by international human rights monitors (see 7 December Bangladesh update on this platform). Most recently in late December, the government moved a group of 700-1,000 refugees to the island; earlier, during the first week of December, 1,642 refugees were moved to the island.

Bhasan Char, which is hours by boat from the mainland, is prone to severe flooding and cyclones. According to the Diplomat, among the facilities set up on the island to prepare it to receive refugees are 1,400 cluster houses, 120 cyclone shelters, various administrative buildings, schools, two hospitals with 20 beds each, and mosques.

Although Bangladeshi authorities are not hiding the fact that they are transferring refugees to this island, on 28 December they arrested a Rohingya man who was apprehended while photographing buses transferring refugees from Kutupalong Camp. The award-winning photojournalist Abul Kalam, 35, who was detained until 5 January, was charged with assaulting and interfering with public officials and faces three years in jail. “We call on the authorities in Cox’s Bazar to drop these absurd charges,” said a spokesman for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “His work is of public interest for all of humankind, which needs to know about the fate of the Rohingyas, who are being mistreated again, three years after being subjected to acts of genocide by Myanmar’s military.”

According to Human Rights Watch, there is limited information about the conditions on the island in addition to “allegations that the authorities may have offered misleading information and incentives to move there.” The Bangladeshi government has denied these concerns and said that refugees are relocated voluntarily and that protective measures are being taken to safeguard refugees. The deputy government official in charge of refugees said that a 12km embankment was built to prevent any flooding and that housing had been built for 100,000 people.

The director of the Bhasan Char project told The Daily Star on 5 December 2020: “I firmly believe that when UN, UNHCR, WFP, and IOM will visit here, they will be convinced. We are waiting for them.” This statement was made three days after the UN said they were ready to proceed with the technical and protection assessments, “if permitted by the government.” The UN also said that the assessments would be the first step in determining whether they will be able to engage operationally with the Bhasan Char project and that subsequently, further work would be needed to develop plans and budgets in coordination with the Government and national and international NGO partners.


07 December 2020

K. Ahmed & R. Ahmed, “Bangladesh Begins Moving Rohingya Families to Remote Island,” The Guardian, 4 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/bangladesh-begins-moving-rohingya-families-to-remote-island
K. Ahmed & R. Ahmed, “Bangladesh Begins Moving Rohingya Families to Remote Island,” The Guardian, 4 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/bangladesh-begins-moving-rohingya-families-to-remote-island

Despite repeated calls from human rights groups for Bangladeshi authorities to remove more than 300 refugees from the island of Bhasan Char (see 10 July Bangladesh update on this platform), The Guardian reports that in early December the country began moving even more Rohingya families from camps near the Myanmar border to the controversial refugee site it constructed on the island. More than 1,600 Rohingya refugees departed the port of Chittagong on Friday 4 December en route to the island, which is located in the Bay of Bengal--joining the 300 Rohingya refugees who have been there since April (see 24 September Bangladesh update on this platform). According to The Guardian, there have been allegations of sexual assaults made against guards and videos have emerged of women screaming to be allowed to return to the mainland.

While refugees are being told that NGOs operating in the mainland camps would also help on Bhasan Char, the UN has not yet agreed to work on the island and on 2 December, UNHCR stated that it had not been involved in the relocations and requested that the Bangladeshi authorities allow an urgent assessment of the island. A refugee camp leader staying in Kutupalong camp said: “We went to the island and I am pretty satisfied with the arrangements there. They have better housing, mosques and madrasas, markets. And the government promised there’ll be no lack of aid and support from the UN and other agencies.” According to Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, some refugees have gone into hiding when they discovered that their names were on the lists for relocation.

On 31 July, WHO reported over 3,361 COVID-19 cases in Cox’s Bazar. UNHCR is providing support and distributing sanitary products in camps it manages. The refugee agency reports that it has installed 65,400 hand washing taps, distributed soap to over 80,0000 households, and made over 1.4 million announcements by megaphone, audio/USB sticks, and via mosques. In addition, some 14,250 elderly care kits have been distributed throughout UNHCR managed camps in Bangladesh and refugee community outreach volunteers have conducted 2,805 training sessions for a total of 6,585 refugees.


24 September 2020

Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)
Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)

A controversial refugee settlement set up by the Bangladesh government on the island of Bhasan Char has been under intense scrutiny since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic because of claims by government officials that refugees confined to the site are being kept there as a Covid-19 quarantine measure. This scrutiny has intensified after women refugees reported experiencing sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of police and military officials. “One or two security personnel were caught by the Rohingya men after they raped a young, unmarried girl,” reported one woman. “The girl cried out badly and alerted the Rohingya men who lived in the same area. But we have no way to know if any police case was registered.” Speaking to The Guardian, several women reported that while female officers provided protection, no female officers were on duty overnight.

More than 300 Rohingya refugees remain confined in prison-like facilities on the remote island. Despite the government’s claim that the refugees were placed there as a quarantine measure, the group has been confined since April--far exceeding the recommended 14-day quarantine time frame. Additionally, officials have announced plans to relocate some 103,200 refugees to the island where groups of up to five people are reported to share rooms of just 50 square feet (enough room for one person). According to Amnesty International, rooms are located in sheds, each of which contains 16 units but just two toilets. Refugees report that they are prevented from leaving the sheds in which they are housed. On 5 September, the government arranged a three-day visit to the island for 40 refugees--amongst whom were camp leaders--so that they could explore the new facility. In speaking to some of the group, Human Rights Watch heard numerous concerns including a lack of medical facilities, lack of livelihood opportunities, and worries regarding safety during the monsoon season.

Responding to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey in July 2020, just as criticism over Bhasan Char grew increasingly heated, an IOM official in Bangladesh reported that the country had not instituted any particular policies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, although he said that “for those who become irregular their status (would be) regularized with extensions of 3 months.” The IOM official added that the country did not have immigration detention and that questions concerning Covid-19 measures taken in facilities were thus not applicable. The source explained that immigration “measures are generally pecuniary punishment (fine).”

As the source did not mention the Bhasan Char situation or the plight of boat people being returned to Bangladesh, the GDP reached out to him for additional comment. He replied: “Your e-mail and survey shared by our team as per relevance to work of border management agencies and coordinated with our immigration and border management team and questions in surveys interpreted as regular and irregular migrants rather than refugees/Rohingya populations. When it comes to Bhasan Char and Refugees the answers will be different as there are different regime and practices by Govt of Bangladesh as well as different agencies are involved in this process. So the answers provided were covered only immigration detention.”


10 July 2020

An Aerial View of the Bhasan Char Refugee Island Camp, (M. Ahmed & R. Beings,
An Aerial View of the Bhasan Char Refugee Island Camp, (M. Ahmed & R. Beings, "Critical Analysis On Why the Island Experiment of Bhasan Char is Not an Option for Rohingya Refugees," The Rohingya Post, 8 May 2020, https://www.rohingyapost.com/critical-analysis-on-why-the-island-experiment-of-bhasan-char-is-not-an-option-for-rohingya-refugees/)

On 9 July 2020, Human Rights Watch urged Bangladeshi authorities to immediately move more than 300 Rohingya refugees, including 33 children, from the silt island of Bhasan Char to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to join their families. Despite inviting UNHCR and other UN agencies to Bhasan Char island, the Bangladesh government is yet to allow UN officials to provide protection services and aid to refugees detained on Bhasan Char, who had been stranded at sea for several weeks. As of 19 June, discussions on the parameters of the visit were ongoing.

Bangladeshi authorities stated that the rescued refugees had to be temporarily quarantined on Bhasan Char to avoid spreading Covid-19 amongst the crowded camps. Yet, more than two months later, the refugees remain on the island despite calls from UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres to return them to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director, Brad Adam, said that “Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return… The government is inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”

Families in Cox’s Bazar have told Human Rights Watch that their relatives on Bhasan Char are being held without freedom of movement, adequate access to food or medical care, and face severe shortages of safe drinking water. In addition, certain refugees have alleged that they were beaten and ill-treated by Bangladesh authorities on the island.

Humanitarian experts have repeatedly raised concerns over the habitability and conditions on the island. After her visit to the island in January 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, questioned whether the island was “truly habitable.” Bangladesh authorities assured that no refugees would be involuntarily relocated to Bhasan Char, saying that the government would await a green signal from UN agencies and independent experts. The senior secretary of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Ministry told the Media on 30 October 2019 that “UN agencies will conduct a technical assessment regarding the safety issues in the island … and we will not start the relocation without any clearance from the UN agencies.” Nonetheless, the government has gone back on this promise by refusing to return the refugees to their families, preventing UN agencies from visiting the refugees to provide protection, medical and verification services, and also by refusing to allow UN agencies access to the island to conduct a transparent assessment of its habitability.

At the same time, Myanmar has yet to take concrete steps to enable safe and voluntary returns. Human Rights Watch urged donors and concerned governments to insist that the Myanmar government and military ensure the security and basic rights of Rohingya, ensure unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies to provide resources and monitor rights, and provide full citizenship for the Rohingya, with all accompanying rights and protections.


27 April 2020

A Boat Carrying Suspected Rohingya Refugees Off the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia, (Maritime Enforcement Agency Handout, EPA, R. Ratcliffe, “Bangladesh Urged to Open Ports to Allow Rohingya Refugee Boats,” The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/bangladesh-urged-to-open-ports-to-allow-in-rohingya-refugee-boats)
A Boat Carrying Suspected Rohingya Refugees Off the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia, (Maritime Enforcement Agency Handout, EPA, R. Ratcliffe, “Bangladesh Urged to Open Ports to Allow Rohingya Refugee Boats,” The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/bangladesh-urged-to-open-ports-to-allow-in-rohingya-refugee-boats)

More than 500 people - including children - have been stranded on two fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal, after Bangladesh refused to allow the refugees to come ashore. Last week, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister announced that the boats would not be allowed to dock, adding that in light of the Covid-19 pandemic the country could not take responsibility for any new refugees. Urging Bangladesh to open its ports, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights decried the situation as a “human tragedy of terrible proportions.” Meanwhile, in a statement released on 25 April, Human Rights Watch said that “the pandemic cannot justify a blanket ban such as Bangladesh’s refusal to allow any Rohingya now or in the future to disembark. Forcing them to remain on the boat also risks their right to health.”

On 8 April, Bangladesh announced the lockdown of Cox’s Bazar, the country’s southern district where more than 855,000 Rohingya refugees live in overcrowded refugee camps. (Population density inside the camps is more than 40 times the average density elsewhere in Bangladesh.) The chief of the district’s administration stated that entry and exit from the region would be prohibited, and that stringent legal action would be taken against those violating the order. Police and soldiers reportedly set up roadblocks on main roads within the district, and conduct patrols inside and outside camps. With government bans on mobile phone and internet use in the camps still in place, many refugees continue to lack access to important public health messaging.


03 April 2020

"Kutupalong Refugee Camp," AFP, 24 March 2020, (https://www.france24.com/en/20200325-virus-panic-grips-rohingya-camps-in-bangladesh)

There are critical concerns about the risk of infection spreading uncontrollably in the overcrowded camps and other facilities used to house the some one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Human rights groups issued a joint letter on 1 April commending the government “for working closely with the humanitarian community on COVID-19 preparedness and response in Cox’s Bazar District, including efforts to establish isolation and treatment facilities.” However the groups pleaded with authorities to stop building barbed wire fencing around camps and to restrict mobile internet connections because these “measures threaten the safety and well-being of the refugees as well as Bangladesh host communities and aid workers, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Separately, the Banglsdeshi Inspector General of Prisons has advised that newly arrived prisoners are to be kept isolated for a period of 14 days prior to joining the general population. He also stated that prisoners already serving time are being checked one by one in every prison of the country. The Inspector also stated that, while plans to release prisoners convicted of minor offences, such as Iran, had been discussed, they are not currently being envisaged.
It is thus far unclear if there are specific measures being taken to safeguard immigration-related detainees.


Last updated:

DETENTION, EXPULSION, AND INCARCERATION STATISTICS

Total number of immigration detainees by year
Not Available
2019
Total number of detained minors
Not Available
2017
Criminal prison population
78,578
2016
72,104
2013
69,850
2011
86,838
2008
74,766
2005
68,178
2002
55,905
1999
43,100
1996
41,618
1993
Percentage of foreign prisoners
0.1
2012
0.1
2012
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
42
2016
46
2013
45
2011
59
2008
52
2005
49
2002
43
1999
35
1996
36
1993

DEMOGRAPHICS AND IMMIGRATION-RELATED STATISTICS

Population
164,700,000
2020
160,996,000
2015
International migrants
2,185,613
2019
1,422,000
2015
International migrants as a percentage of the population
0.9
2015
Refugees
854,779
2019
906,645
2018
932,216
2017
276,198
2016
231,958
2015
232,472
2014
Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
1.7
2016
1.46
2014
Total number of new asylum applications
5
2019
0
2016
4
2014
Stateless persons
0
2016

SOCIO-ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)
1,086
2014
Remittances to the country
14,968,600
2015
Unemployment Rate
2014
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD)
2,418
2014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
142 (Medium)
2015
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
77
2007

DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES

Legal tradition
Common law
2017
Muslim law
2017

INTERNATIONAL LAW

Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Ratio: 10/19
International treaty reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
ICCPR Article 10 2000
2000
2000
CAT Article 14 1998
1998
1998
ICESCR Article 2 1998
1998
1998
ICESCR Article 3 1998
1998
1998
CRC Article 14 1990
1990
1990
CEDAW Article 2 1984
1984
1984
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
Recommendation Year
Committee on Migrant Workers §34. The Committee recommends that the State party: (a) Take the steps necessary to ensure that in administrative and judicial proceedings, including detention and expulsion proceedings, migrant workers and members of their families, particularly those in an irregular situation, are guaranteed due process on an equal basis with nationals of the State party before the courts and tribunals; (b) Ensure that the minimum guarantees enshrined in the Convention are assured with regard to administrative and judicial procedures against migrant workers and members of their families. 2017
2017
Committee on Migrant Workers 36. The Committee recommends that the State party: (a) Make the proactive protection of migrant workers, including those in an irregular situation and those working in isolated conditions, a priority concern for its diplomatic missions in destination States; (b) Strengthen the welfare services and consular assistance provided to the State party’s migrant workers in destination States, including psychological counselling, legal counselling and shelters for migrants in distress, and ensure that such services and assistance are gender-responsive; (c) Ensure that diplomatic missions are adequately staffed and that staff are properly trained on a human rights-based approach to dealing with all issues faced by migrant workers; (d) Ensure that diplomatic missions in States of employment have specific policies on the prevention of and responses to arbitrary detention and sexual and gender-based violence, including having female officers to deal with cases of sexual abuse, a free, hotline that operates around the clock, a roster of competent local lawyers able to help the State party’s migrant workers with legal issues and to conduct frequent visits to migrant detention centres. 2017
2017
Committee on Migrant Workers 54. The Committee recommends that the State party: (a) Facilitate the repatriation of all migrant workers in need, including those who have escaped from abusive employers or have ended up in an irregular situation, in detention or elsewhere; (b) Enhance the gender-responsive services provided for the reintegration of returned migrant workers, including psychosocial services and livelihood opportunities, particularly providing response services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and those who have experienced abuse during the migration process; (c) Conduct awareness-raising programmes to highlight the contribution of women migrant workers and combat the stigmatization of returning women migrant workers. 2017
2017
Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2009
2017
No 2013
2017

INSTITUTIONAL INDICATORS