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The UN Refugee Agency 


Executive Committee Summary 

Country: Bangladesh 

Planning Year: 2005 


Executive Committee Summary 

(a) Context and Beneficiary Population(s) 


UNHCR’s operation in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, started in 1993 as a result of a 
massive influx between 1991 and 1992 of some 250,000 refugees who fled the Northern 
Rakhine State of Myanmar due to political and social reasons. While the majority of them, i.e. 
236,000 refugees, have returned since then, a caseload of 20,000 still remain in two camps in 
Bangladesh. UNHCR’s involvement and presence is to provide protection and assistance to 
these refugees while seeking durable solutions. The search for durable solutions, with 
repatriation as the preferred option, has been pursued vigorously in 2002 and 2003. In 2003, 
3,231 refugees returned to Myanmar, the highest return rate in one year since 1998. However, 
only 200 refugees have returned by mid-2004. 

UNHCR has presented a proposal to the Government of Bangladesh for a self-reliance 
programme for the refugees pending their return. UNHCR's programme aims to empower the 
refugees by affording them an opportunity to be independent of external assistance upon their 

In urban areas, there are 153 refugees who are mainly coming from the Northern Rakhine 
State of Myanmar, Iran and Somalia. They are found in Dhaka and other major cities. 
UNHCR will continue to provide protection as well as assistance in the fonn of monthly 
allowances and self-reliance grants to these groups and will continue to seek durable 
solutions for them. 

Security Situation 

The overall security situation in most parts of the country has deteriorated. There has been an 
increase of violence, reports of extortion and theft, clashes of armed gangs with security 
personnel and seizures of caches of weapons. This has prompted some embassies to look into 
possibilities of weapon - smuggling operations in the region. The country also witnessed a 
growing number of politically motivated crimes in 2004. The number of political killings in 
the regional cities and towns is growing. The numbers of hartals (strikes) and mass 
demonstrations organised by various political parties has also increased. 

Bangladesh has no security phase except the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Area, which is 
categorised as Phase I. Security clearance is required to enter into this area. Security in the 
refugee camps as well as throughout the area of Cox’s Bazar has been generally calm, 
although sporadic incidents of violence and political demonstrations were reported. However, 
there were law and order problems in one of the two camps in May and June 2004 where 
refugees refused to collect their food because of arbitrary arrests and refugees’ leadership 
problems. The Government of Bangladesh has the responsibility of ensuring law and order. 
UNHCR monitors the situation and advises the government accordingly. Orientation and 
information sessions will be organised for local law enforcement bodies to improve the 
security management of the camps. 


Protection Issues 

UNHCR will continue to provide international protection to the refugees, will monitor 
repatriation and ensure the voluntary nature of the process. UNHCR will also focus on the 
respect of human rights of refugees. This will take the form of advocacy against physical 
harassment inclusive of gender-based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, incarceration 
on inadequate grounds and forced repatriation. The modality for addressing these issues will 
be through monitoring of security situation, timely and appropriate interventions with the 
authorities, providing legal representations and raising awareness. 

Despite the fact that Bangladesh has been host to thousands of refugees, it has not yet 
developed any national nonnative and administrative legal framework to provide protection 
to asylum-seekers and refugees. It is also not a signatory to either the 1951 Refugee 
Convention or the 1967 Protocol. This has resulted in a situation where UNHCR has to fill 
the gap to provide access of individual asylum-seekers to a standard asylum procedure and to 
provide them with international protection. 

UNHCR’s Role 

UNHCR’s primary function of providing and ensuring protection to camp and urban refugees 
will be strengthened. Another role in the area of protection will be promotion work. UNHCR 
will continue to encourage the Government of Bangladesh to establish a national legal 
framework in dealing with asylum-seekers and refugees as well as accession to the 1951 
Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This role will be played through further dialogue with 
legislators, policy makers and key government ministries and by expanding the number of 
lawyers, legislators and officials with knowledge of refugee law. These activities could 
convince lawmakers of the need for adopting laws and international legal instruments on 

UNHCR will play a co-ordinating role for the smooth delivery of programmes that will 
improve the life of the refugees. UNHCR will work in very close collaboration with sister 
UN agencies and other local and international NGOs. UN agencies have been encouraged to 
include the refugee caseload in their planning and assistance activities in the concerned 
region in 2005 and beyond. UNHCR will monitor all activities to be undertaken by 
implementing partners, and will update donors regularly. 

Overview of each beneficiary population 

Refugees from the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar 

UNHCR’s statistics at end December 2003 shows that there were 19,647 refugees in two 
camps in Cox’s Bazar. At the end of August 2004 the figure had grown to nearly 20,000. 
They are the residual caseload from the 250,000 refugees who crossed over to Bangladesh in 
1991-1992. Among the current population, 50% are women and 60% are under the age of 
eighteen. Their language and culture are similar to those of the local population living in the 
Cox’s Bazar area. Prior to their flight to Bangladesh, the majority of them worked as farmers 
and some as day labourers. Most of them belong to a Muslim minority ethnic group while a 
few families are Hindus. Many are uneducated with a literacy rate of around 10%. Of the 
total number of families, approximately 4.5% are female-headed households. They are 


considered as a particularly vulnerable group in a society where the role of women is 
traditionally restricted. 

Urban Refugees/Promotional Activities 

The majority of the 153 urban refugees are from Myanmar, others are from Iran and Somalia. 
Their presence is tolerated by the Government of Bangladesh and they benefit from 
assistance provided by UNHCR. UNHCR assists the non-vulnerable cases to become self- 
sufficient by providing funds for income generation. 

Policy Issues 

The UNHCR team will focus on addressing additional needs for vulnerable groups which 
includes women and children, and women-headed households. The protection activities will 
incorporate Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) issues as well as trafficking of 
women and children. Specific assistance projects will be implemented for these categories. 
Sectors such as education, health and community services will be supported through a 
concerted effort by NGOs and UN agencies. 

Environmental programs will be encouraged and supported to mitigate ecological damage. A 
reforestation and soil conservation project will be implemented for environment regeneration 
benefiting not only refugees but also the local communities. 

Efforts will be made to ensure that refugees are not seen as a burden and are accepted by the 
communities. Co-ordination with administrative and law enforcement authorities will be 
enhanced through regular contacts and briefings on refugee issues, and the role of UNHCR. 

Linkages to other countries 

UNHCR Bangladesh will maintain its close link with UNHCR Myanmar where the process 
of reintegration of the repatriated refugees is ongoing. UNHCR will closely monitor the 
repatriation process. The repatriation will be closely co-ordinated with UNHCR colleagues in 
Maungdaw. Both sides will continue to monitor the border areas and share information on 
any unusual movements of people. Monthly or on an as needed basis, meetings will be held 
between the two field offices while country to country contacts at the capital level will be 

Role of NGOs and UN Agencies 

UN Agencies are generally supportive of UNHCR’s activities. WFP will continue to provide 
food to the refugees until durable solutions are found. Extensive discussions will continue to 
be held with all agencies. 

Local NGOs with expertise will be identified to run projects in some of the relevant sectors. 
UNHCR will co-operate and give support to such NGOs. Refugee Counselling Services Unit 
(RCSU), UNHCR’s current partner, will continue to ensure that urban refugees are given 
opportunities and resources to undertake self-reliance projects. 

(b) Selected Programme Goals and Objectives 


Name of Beneficiary Population/Theme: Refugees from the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar 

Main Goal(s): Provide protection and assistance pending repatriation to Myanmar. 

Principal Objectives 

Related Outputs 

• Enhanced protection is 
provided to refugees. 

• Refugees’ basic rights recognised and respected. 

• Refugees are receiving 
skill trainings pending 
their return. 

• Upon their return, refugees are able to do some income generation 
activities to sustain themselves and improve their lives. 

• Absorption capacity of 
the local communities is 

• Refugees accepted in the local communities. 

• UNHCR’s activities are 

• UNHCR programme supported by all stakeholders and accepted 
by local commmunity. 

• UNHCR encourages 

other agencies to 

include refugees in their 

• Refugees included as part of other agencies’ operations. 

Name of Beneficiary Population/Theme: Urban Refugees 

Main Goal(s): Ensure international protection for refugees and advocate for adopting legal 
framework on refugee protection. 

Principal objectives 

Related outputs 

• Provide access to asylum seekers to 
RSD procedures and ensure 
refugees’ international protection. 

• RSD conducted by UNHCR. 

• Refugees recognised and assisted. 

• Facilitate durable solutions for 

• Refugees repatriated/resettled. 

• Refugees become self-supporting. 

• Encourage the Government of 
Bangladesh to consider adoption of 
a national legal framework for 
asylum-seekers, refugees and to 
accede to relevant international 
legal instruments. 

• Government officials and/or institutions initiated in 
adopting national refugee legislation and acceding to 
the Refugee Convention. 

• Identify and expand a pool of 
human resources that deal with the 
legal aspects of refugee issues 

• Relevant government officials, people and groups in 
the civil society and media trained on refugee law.