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03ROME3583 2003-08-08 04:46:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Rome
Cable title:  

Increasing pressure on the Rohingya refugees in

Tags:   EAID EAGR AORC PREF KUNR WFP UN 
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					  UNCLAS  ROME 003583 

SIPDIS


AIDAC

FROM U.S. MISSION IN ROME

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR A/S PRM DEWEY, IO A/S HOLMES, EUR/NE, EUR/WE,
SA/INS, IO/EDA SKOTOK
USDA/FAS FOR U/S PENN, MCHAMBLISS, RTILSWORTH AND LPANASUK
USAID FOR ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS, AA/DCHA WINTER, AA/ANE,
D/DCHA/OFDA BMCCONNELL, D/DCHA/FFP LANDIS
BRUSSELS FOR USAID/PLERNER
USUN FOR MLUTZ
GENEVA FOR AMBASSADOR MOLEY, RMA/LYNCH AND USAID/KYLOH
NSC FOR JDWORKEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID EAGR AORC PREF KUNR WFP UN
SUBJECT: Increasing pressure on the Rohingya refugees in
Cox's Bazar, southern Bangladesh to return to Burma -
"(We're) caught between a crocodile and a snake" (Burmese
refugee quoted in an MSF Holland report, 2003)

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.
NOT SUITABLE FOR INTERNET POSTING.

-------
SUMMARY
-------



1. (SBU) US/Mission Rome Humanitarian Attache visited two
UNHCR-managed Rohingya refugee camps on July 29-30 -
Kutupalong and Nayapara - located in Teknaf Thana (Cox's
Bazar district, at the southernmost tip of Bangladesh
directly bordering Burma) which house approximately 20,000
Burmese Muslims from Arakan (Rakhine) State in western
Burma. He found increasing pressure tactics being employed
by camp authorities and local officials to accelerate
repatriation efforts, an attempt to marginalize the role of
UNHCR's two most prominent international NGO partners (MSF-
Holland and Irish Concern), and the UNHCR's in-country team
in a phase-down, overtaken by events mode. He also observed
a "make-shift camp/slum" located in the center of Teknaf
town, occupied by approximately 4,500 Rohingya people dubbed
"illegal intruders" who have been living there for the past
8-9 months under abominable conditions and who receive
virtually no assistance. End summary.



--------------------------


Background


--------------------------





2. (SBU) US Mission/Rome Humanitarian Attache Tim Lavelle
visited two UNHCR-managed Rohingya refugee camps on July 29-
30 - Kutupalong and Nayapara - located in Teknaf Thana
(Cox's Bazar district, southern Bangladesh) which house
approximately 20,000 Burmese Muslims from Arakan (Rakhine)
State in western Burma. The Rohingyas in these camps (more
than twenty such camps were established in the early 1990's
which are now down to two) are officially recognized as
refugees by UNHCR, which is directly responsible for their
survival and safety.



3. (SBU) In the period 1991-1992, approximately 250,000
Rohingya Muslims left Burma, victims of large-scale
repression at that time. In addition to the camp populations
cited above, an estimated minimum of 100,000 Rohingya
presently live in the Cox's Bazar region and are considered
illegal immigrants by the Bangladeshi government. This
latter group has no rights, and no substantive help or
assistance from anyone.



4. (SBU) Both at present and historically, there is a clear
policy of discrimination against the Rohingya in Burma. As
per the 2002 State Department's Country Report on Human
Rights in Burma: "Members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in
Rakhine State, on the country's western coast, continued to
experience severe legal, economic, and social
discrimination. The Government (has) denied citizenship to
most Rohingya on the grounds that their ancestors did not
reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule
in 1824, as required by the country's highly restrictive
citizenship law." Human Rights Watch (in their July 2002
Report entitled "Crackdown on Burmese Muslims") commented:
"In Arakan state, a predominately Muslim area, human rights
violations, including forced labor, restrictions on freedom
of movement, and the destruction of mosques, have been
commonplace." Note: US Mission officer met in Teknaf with an

MSF-Holland (MSF-H) representative based in Arakan State who
confirmed that these egregious practices were continuing -
in addition to imposition of large "fees" for marriage and
birth registration ("there are lots of villages where no one
has married for several years"), arbitrary taxation, opaque
licensing and monopoly schemes linked to land and water
access, and frequent curfews. End note.



5. (SBU) Reportedly in the first visit by the Burma Head of
State to Bangladesh (Dhaka) in 20 years in December 2002,
the subject of repatriation of Rohingyas was discussed. In
April 2003 in Geneva, the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary
(Samser Mobin Chowdhury) reiterated Bangladesh's support to
all efforts for Burmese refugees remaining in Bangladesh to
return promptly to their homeland. Over the last several
months, the Burmese Government has sent signals that all
"constraints" on refugee return are now "off" and that
authorities will now accept all refugee claims at "face
value."



--------------------------


Whither UNHCR Bangladesh?


--------------------------





6. (SBU) UNHCR did a survey in Bangladesh at the end of 2002
which concluded that the majority of refugees in the Teknaf
camps did not want to return for a variety of reasons. Some
5,000 expressed interest in returning but cited
"complications." UNHCR Bangladesh then proceeded to produce
(December 23) a concept paper (which still, in US Mission's
understanding, remains in draft) entitled "Self-Sufficiency
of Refugees From Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar in
Bangladesh." This paper apparently commented on how refugees
could be helped toward self-reliance using as a guiding
principle the concept of Temporary Settlement (TS) in local
Bangladeshi communities for refugees who would not opt for
immediate repatriation.



7. (SBU) Despite "scuttling" early on the TS idea as a non-
starter, given the improved bilateral climate between the
two concerned governments, UNHCR verbally promulgated a
rolling strategy several months later which involved a phase-
out of UNHCR material assistance by the end of 2003; and
informed its two principal NGO partners (MSF-H and Irish
Concern) of UNHCR's unilateral decision to have both NGOs
hand over their respective health programs (health care for
children under ten, including supplementary and therapeutic
feeding) by July 1 to the Government's Ministry of Health
(MOH). Note: At the time of the visit, the handover date had
slipped to August 1, but it was evident that the MOH is not
in a position to assume this substantive NGO workload any
time soon. End note.



8. (SBU) Additional note. In a subsequent meeting in Dhaka
(July 31) with the UNHCR Country Representative, Ms. Machiko
Kondo, US Mission was informed that UNHCR was motivated to
hand over its Rohingya camp health activities to the MOH in
part based upon a 2002 recommendation of UNHCR's External
Auditor who apparently concluded that, with a reduced case
load in the camps (compared with the 1990s) - the district
MOH would be up to the task. Ms. Kondo also saw greater MOH
involvement as an integral part of UNHCR's self-sufficiency
approach. End additional note.



9. (SBU) Ms. Kondo also informed US Mission that the latest
AIDAC

FROM U.S. MISSION IN ROME

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR A/S PRM DEWEY, IO A/S HOLMES, EUR/NE, EUR/WE,
SA/INS, IO/EDA SKOTOK
USDA/FAS FOR U/S PENN, MCHAMBLISS, RTILSWORTH AND LPANASUK
USAID FOR ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS, AA/DCHA WINTER, A

iteration of the "self-sufficiency" strategy was presently
under active discussion in UNHCR Headquarters, Geneva. The
other partners (World Food Program, MSF-H, Irish Concern and
the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS)- the latter
supervises food distributions in the camps) - all voiced
concern over the complete lack of consultation and
communications in the elaboration of this plan. (Meetings on
these issues and time frames between UNHCR and its partners
have been going on since late last year with little
concluded or agreed upon.) Both international NGOs saw the
folding of all health care efforts into the local MOH as a
quick way of eliminating their "honest broker" efforts on
behalf of "voluntary repatriation." It was also not clear to
the US Mission whether this latest draft strategy had even
been shared with the Bangladesh Government.



--------------------------



--------------------------


A visit to the two official camps - "Quibbling over the
definition of coercion"


--------------------------



--------------------------





10. (SBU) Walkthroughs (with GOB, UN and NGO personnel) on
July 29-30 of the officially recognized Kutupalong and
Nayapara camps (populations of 8,268 and 12,495 Rohingya on
June 30 respectively) revealed the following:

-There remains high chronic malnutrition in both camps,
despite an involved and sustained international NGO presence
over a number of years. Both camps have supplementary
(total coverage 1,300 mothers and small children) and
therapeutic feeding centers (covering 100 acutely
malnourished children) and WFP has now introduced a primary
school biscuit snack program for up to 6,000 camp children;

-There is a visible local police presence in both camps,
which is reinforced by paramilitary cadres. We also came
across a plain-clothed "enforcer" (adept at crowd control),
who appeared to be well known and feared by the Nayapara
camp residents;

-Both of the two Camp-in-Charge GOB officers conveyed that,
in their view, almost all of the refugees wanted to go back
(now that the Government of Burma had agreed to their
return) and that they saw their job as making this happen
soonest. They stated that the overall goal is to have all
camp residents repatriated by the end of 2004;

-On the day of the visit, tension was particularly high at
the Kutupalong camp where several groups of women held up
banners protesting "bully-boy" tactics and heightened
(verbal at this point) threats of intimidation. US Mission
was handed a petition (one of dozens that are reportedly
generated weekly and given to UN and NGO personnel) which
contained the following: "The principles of voluntariness in
repatriation, respecting fundamental principles of the
refugee law had been/have been/are being excessively
violated by GOB Camp officials;"

-MSF-H and Irish Concern staff reported that they are now
starting to receive threatening letters accusing them of
siding with the "dissidents" who want to block the now
accelerating repatriation process;S. MISSION IN ROME

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR A/S PRM DEWEY, IO A/S HOLMES, EUR/NE, EUR/WE,
SA/INS, IO/EDA SKOTOK
USDA/FAS FOR U/S PENN, MCHAMBLISS, RTILSWORTH AND LPANASUK
USAID FOR ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS, AA/DCHA WINTER, AA/ANE,
D/DCHA/

-It was clear from viewing MOH facilities and staff in place
at both camps that they are presently operating on a
"shoestring" with a modicum of personnel and little
equipment.



11. (SBU) Note: For our visit, the local UNHCR staff in the
camps preferred to play the role of "silent backbenchers."
End note.



--------------------------



--------------------------


The "makeshift camp/slum" of Rohingya "illegal intruders" in
Teknaf town


--------------------------



--------------------------





12. (SBU) US Mission observed a 3-4 acre "make-shift camp/
slum" located in the center of Teknaf town, opposite the
Thana Executive office. It contains an estimated 4,500
Rohingyas. There is speculation that many of these are
refugees who were repatriated by UNHCR over the last years
and decided to return again (by illegally crossing back into
Bangladesh). This slum has received little serious attention
from the UN, the GOB or the NGOs since its emplacement 8-9
months ago. As per MSF-H, the Thana Executive Officer in
Teknaf describes these people as "illegal intruders." As per
the NGOs, this slum came into being as a direct result of a
GOB military-style operation late last year in the area
focused on uprooting illegal immigrants ("Operation Clean
Heart"). This "sweep" was specifically targeted at the
100,000 "illegal" Rohingyas (the minimum guess) presently
living in the Cox's Bazar area (outside the official camps).
The condition of these Rihingya slum dwellers in Teknaf town
is abominable. When queried, the position of the local UNHCR
office towards those people is that they are not refugees
and there is therefore no foreseen or anticipated action, as
this could trigger further probing as to who these people
are and so forth. UNHCR confirmed that they had visited the
"makeshift camp/slum" on several occasions but that no
assistance had been nor would be provided. From July, the
GOB deployed a small contingent of local police at the site.



13. (SBU) MSF-H informed that it had obtained tentative
permission of the GOB's Thana leader to access the camp and
had been carrying out limited health education for the
"makeshift camp population," including encouraging them to
access the government hospital for general treatment or
other illnesses. The nutritional situation is grim with
clear and visible signs of acute malnutrition (marasmus), in
particular among the under-fives (mostly girls). Water for
the camp is supplied by two government-provided tube wells.
US Mission was also informed that 10 latrines had been dug
but that overuse and the present monsoon had rendered them
unusable. Note: on August 5, US Mission learned from WFP
Dhaka that the local MOH had agreed to "intervene" in the
Teknaf slum. End note.



--------------------------


Conclusions and Recommendations


--------------------------





14. (SBU) It is imperative that all pressure, overt and
covert, direct and indirect, on the 20,000 official Rohingya
refugees to repatriate against their will on the part of
camp and local authorities - cease with immediate effect.
UNHCR needs to affirm that continued international and localS PENN,
MCHAMBLISS, RTILSWORTH AND LPANASUK
USAID FOR ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS, AA/DCHA WINTER, AA/ANE,
D/DCHA/OFDA BMCCONNELL, D/DCHA/FFP LANDIS
BRUSSELS FOR USAID/PLERNER
USUN FOR MLUTZ
GENEVA FOR AMBASSADOR MOLEY, RMA/LYNCH AND USAID/

NGO presence in these camps as "honest brokers" in the
voluntary repatriation process is critical.



15. (SBU) UNHCR and its UN sister agencies need to recognize
that, as long as the Government of Burma continues its
repression towards the people of Arakan in general and the
Rohingya Muslims in particular, UN engagement in Cox' Bazar
district will continue and that adequate resources must be
allotted.



16. (SBU) Any refugee "self-sufficiency plan" developed by
UNHCR for the remaining residual caseload of 20,000
Rohingyas - needs to be fully vetted with all key
counterparts (WFP, MSF-H, Irish Concern, Bangladesh Red
Crescent, etc) and realistic timeframes mutually agreed upon
in an open and transparent manner.



17. (SBU) The UN needs to urgently request the Government of
Bangladesh to allow UN Agencies and NGOs to provide
humanitarian assistance to the 4,500 Rohingya living in the
"makeshift camp/slum" in Teknaf town.



18. (SBU) UNHCR is asked to consider an assessment to
determine the approximate number of Rohingya "illegals"
living in the Cox's Bazar district, (minimum estimate
100,000) and suggest a strategy for dealing with them
because this is not going to go away.



19. (SBU) The UN needs also to move forward with the
establishment of a code of conduct and standards of behavior
for its staffs and partners related to protection of
vulnerable populations for sexual exploitation and abuse as
mandated by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee at its
fifty-third session in Geneva in July, 2003.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





20. (SBU) UNHCR and its partners have been intimately
involved with the Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar since 1991-1992,
the initial exodus of 250,000 refugees who left Burma due to
acute repression. While the official numbers indicate that,
over the last decade, 230,000 have returned home, many have
chosen to re-return to Bangladesh as "illegals" rather than
deal with the nightmare that is Burma. The remaining
official "residual" caseload of 20,000 Rohingyas will (in
our view) return only under increased intimidation, which is
already evident at the camps. Despite the desire of the GOB
to come to closure on this long-festering matter, UNHCR has
to remain the unwavering advocate of those Rohingyas who do
not choose repatriation. This is not the moment for naivete
or rosy optimism. As expressed in a refugee petition handed
to us in the Kutupalong camp on July 29: "Seeing no
international protection and alternative, we, the
unfortunate victims of injustice make up our mind to sign up
the affidavit (the future death trap of Rohingya refugee)
and go back to Burma with well founded fear of genocide and
persecution only to escape the physical torture, arbitrary
arrests, jail custody, expulsion from the camps and
starvation. We the refugees go back to Burma through one way
and leave the homes and enter into Bangladesh through
another way."
Hall


NNNN
2003ROME03583 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED