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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 195
June 25, 2005

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World Refugee Day observed

Dr. Udatta Bikash

The World Refugee Day (WRD), 20 June was celebrated in Bangladesh through elaborate programmes. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized programmes in Dhaka and in Cox's Bazar. Also, Liberation War Museum and Rainbow Film Society organized discussion programme and documentary film show to mark the day.

This year's theme of the WRD is: 'Courage'. It takes courage to be a refugee. Courage not to give up hope and to make the most of the hand that has been dealt. Courage to start a new life against daunting odds, eventually to become contributing and enriching members of society once more.

A special UN General assembly Resolution, unanimously adopted on 4 December 2000, designated 20 June as the World Refugee Day in solidarity with the Africa Refugee Day.

In his WRD message the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres said "While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage -- the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives." Ahead of the WRD, UNHCR paid tribute to the indomitable spirit of tens of millions of refugees and displaced who have been struggling to overcome enormous loss and hardship to start a new.

In the morning of 20 June, the UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh, Mr. Christopher Beng Cha Lee in his brief speech at the inaugural session appreciated the role of the people and Government of Bangladesh for hosting the refugees from the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar. Mr. Lee urged the Government to be more pro-active in finding durable solutions for the rest of the remaining refugees from Myanmar. The UNHCR Representative also urged the Government of Bangladesh to solve the long due problem of the Stateless people in Bangladesh. He also underlined the role of the international community in this regard.

In Cox's Bazar, the UNHCR's Sub-Office organized a rally, discussion on refugees' rights, art and essay competition for refugee children, exhibition of self-help, video show, cultural programme and prize distribution in the two refugee camps named Nayapara and Kutupalong in Cox's Bazaar district. Refugees, representatives from the Government, UNHCR, World Food Programme (WFP), Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) etc. attended the programmes.

Cox's Bazaar Environment Journalists' Forum organized another discussion on "Rohingya Refugee: Our Duties and Responsibilities" where Professor Mustaque Ahmed, Former Principle of Ramu College was the main speaker. Mr. Aminul Islam, Additional Deputy Commissioner (General and Development) was chief guest while Mr. Syed Mahmud Belal Haider, TNO, Cox's Bazaar Sadaar, Advocate Mr. Mohammad Jahangir, Former President of Cox's Bazaar Bar Association, Ms. Soo-Jin Rhee from UNHCR etc. were discussants. It was presided over by Md. Nurul Islam , President of the Forum.

Currently, the number of the Persons of Concern to UNHCR globally is 19.2 million. Among them, 9.2 millions are refugees. The rest are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), asylum seekers, stateless persons, and returnees.

According to the international human rights instruments, and indeed the Bangladesh Constitution, refugees are entitled to have the right to life, liberty and security of person; right to seek and enjoy asylum; right to be recognized as a person before the law; right to education; ; right to participate in the cultural life of a community; freedom from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom from slavery or servitude; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; and freedom from arbitrary interference in privacy, home and family. UNHCR's protection activities include ensuring these rights.

Upon the request of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, UNHCR commenced it operation in Bangladesh on 13 February 1992; and an MOU was signed on 12 May 1993. Since then, UNHCR has been providing international protection and assisted the Government of Bangladesh in the voluntary repatriation of 236,000 of the 250,000 refugees (mainly Muslims) from the Northern Rakhine state of Myanmar. Currently, there are 20,544 refugees in two restricted camps in Cox's Bazaar. UNHCR is struggling to find a suitable durable solution for these refugees.

Beyond the camp refugees, there are 158 Mandate Refugees from Myanmar (non-Rohingya), Iran, Somalia and Sierra Leon. The national NGO, Dhaka Ashania Mission is involved in the provision of services for these urban refugees and registration of asylum seekers for Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process.

From the outset of the refugee operation, UNHCR has played an important role in community improvement and development activities in the refugee hosting areas. The agency has constructed and undertaken a number of projects in the villages around the camps in Cox's Bazaar, benefiting the local population, especially in the education and health sectors.

The writer is a human rights researcher and free-lance journalist.


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