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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: 205
September 3, 2005

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Enact National legislation for protecting refugees


Shaila Shahid

Bangladesh should adopt national legislation for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. This will enable to handle the problem in more humane and effective ways and enhance country's image in terms of implementation of obligations promised through signing and ratification of different human rights instruments.

Enactment of a law in Jatiya Sangsad regarding the refugee issue is a need of the hour though Bangladesh has not yet signed the International Refugee Convention 1951. The opinion came from a workshop on 'Refugee Rights and Role of the Media' organised on August 18, 2005 at a city hotel by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR Representative to Bangladesh Christopher Beng Cha Lee criticised the government for not signing the 1951 UN Convention on the status of refugees to protect basic human rights of the refugees in the country. "The government does not allow us to make arrangements for minimum standard houses for Rohingya refugees, education of their children, plantation in their camps and teaching them Bangla language that they speak," he said at a workshop on 'Refugees' Rights and Role of Media' in the city.

"Politicians don't have time to listen to us, it is a shame for the country," he added. Bangladesh government should understand the UNHCR is also working to change the situation in Myanmar and that Rohingyas will not be here permanently. So it should not take the issue politically, Lee insisted. At the inaugural session, in his welcome speech, he urged all to be aware of the refugee issue.

He said, 'The refugee crisis often arise from political reasons, but humanity should be considered above all limitations and obstacles.'

He, however, said the UN organisation faces challenge in every country as it works with those who are not nationals of that particular country.

Naim Ahmed, an advocate of the Supreme Court and expert on the issue, insisted on signing the Refugee Convention 1951.

He said, 'None can rule out the possibility of facing the refugee problem, as Bangladesh is now facing it with the Rohingyas.'

'So if we become a signatory to the Convention it will help us protecting our interests', Naim said adding, 'After signing, everything related to refugee crisis become an international liability and the burden shared with the world usually becomes lighter.'

Naim described in detail the ins and outs of the 1951 Convention with special focus on Bangladesh perspective in his presentation, 'The Refugee Convention and Adoption of National Legislation on Refugees: Bangladesh Perspective.'

Before signing the Convention, Bangladesh can introduce a separate law regarding management and other matters related to refugees.

The Jatiya Sangsad should pass the law to save the country's interest as, often seen in global examples, the smaller or weaker states have to face enormous pressure from the stronger neighbours in this regard, Naim opined.

'Signing the Convention would help reduce present problems in bilateral dealings in this regard' he said.

Advocate Naim Ahmed of the Supreme Court said though Bangladesh did not sign the UN Convention on refugees, it could not stop Rohingya migration to it. "Unidentified Rohingyas coming in large number to the country are likely to cause more social or economic problems, by spreading out across the country," he said. If Bangladesh signs the convention, there will be a legal framework to identify if they are 'economic migrants, criminals or refugees'. The international community will also come forward to help solve the problems, he pointed out. Bangladesh might face pressure from stronger neighbours in the absence of any legal framework on refugee issues, he thought.

Dr CR Abrar, executive director of Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit, regretted that the civil society in the country is indifferent to protection of refugees' rights.

He recalled that during the Liberation War, a large number of Bangladeshis took shelter in a neighbouring country.

He called upon journalists to write reports on refugee issues on humanitarian and legal grounds.

UNHCR National Protection Officer Uttam Kumar Das also spoke at the workshop attended by 12 journalists from newspapers and the electronic media. There are now about 20,500 Rohingya refugees at two camps in Cox's Bazar and many more unregistered ones are spread across the southeast border districts of the country.

Law Desk


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