Bangladesh’s contribution to standards on refugee protection
Bangladesh has given refuge to around one million Rohingyas. The number is constantly increasing with the birth of new babies in the camps. Bangladesh has not given them refugee status yet as it is not a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951. But Bangladesh has done enough to keep up the spirit of the Convention. Although different international agencies have protested the relocation of the Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, it seems that the place has proved to be a healthier and safer alternative for the Rohingyas. The relocation serves the purposes of arts 3 to 33 of the Refugee Convention 1951. In Bhasan Char, the population have proper housing facilities, wage earning employment, right to movement with reasonable restrictions, proper identity card, public relief, ration, access to courts, freedom of association, and basic education, etc.
Such relocation is not new in Bangladesh. Previously Bangladesh relocated the Biharis in Geneva camp and provided them with citizenship in 2008 through a gradual process. The Biharis have been acceded as Bangladeshis and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has approved it. The Rohingyas in Kutupalong and other makeshift camps enjoy absolute rights a refugee can enjoy under arts 3 to 34 of the Convention. There is always a positive aspect of Bangladesh's relocation of asylum seekers. Biharis' citizenship and Rohingyas' refugee-ship is the perfect example to suit the argument.
Bangladesh increased the impact of customary value of Refugee Convention and principle of non-refoulement (practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution). Some provisions of the Convention might achieve the value of opinio juris (acceptance of practice of states as legally binding) through the practice of signatory and non-signatory countries of the Convention. That means, a country whether it signs the Convention or not, it will abide by the principle of protection through state practice. Here, Bangladesh's relocation of refugees has the possibility of becoming opinio juris considering the comprehensive steps taken so far.
Despite the lack of resources, Bangladesh designed a whole island with standard infrastructure, employment opportunities, and other basic necessities. The Rohingyas in Bhasan Char and NGO-workers claim that the Rohingyas in the relocated area are living a better life comparing to the Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar camps. The world shall encourage this type of relocation as state practice. This will ultimately ensure better life (living standard) for the refugees.
After a refugee influx, there are three layers of protection: (a) the first layer of protection prohibits expulsion of the refugees to their own country; (b) the second layer of protection starts from encampment to relocation; and (c) the third layer of protection ensures minimum standard of human rights in the encamped or relocated area. Last two layers of protection are concerned about relocation and residential facilities of the refugees. In almost all the refugee crises across the world, the scenario remains almost the same and sometimes different for signatory countries only.
Even being the part of same genus, the first layer of protection has the status of customary international law, but the other two do not. Relocation or local settlement as a temporary protection for the refugees is an important phenomenon. The European Union practices Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for the mass influxes of refugees and aspires to provide protection to the incoming refugees through local settlement/relocation along with other necessary facilities for a temporary period of three years. The state practice of relocation is very much common across the countries in different forms. Emergence of relocation alternative as a state practice or customary international law in the refugee host countries will revolutionise the refugee protection standard. Countries who are unwelcoming to refugees will lose the ground of not signing and ratifying the Convention. All the state parties irrespective of signatories or non-signatories will opt for temporary protection mechanism for incoming refugees after mass influx.
Overall, Bangladesh is contributing to the jurisprudence of international refugee law in various ways. As Bangladesh is contributing and protecting through such contribution, it should advocate for its recognition regarding such expansions. Simultaneously, it is carrying out the responsibility of protecting refugees, whether it is party to the Convention or not. So signing and ratifying the Refugee Convention will be a time-tailored decision for Bangladesh. This will help Bangladesh recognise its newer contributions to international refugee law – whether it be internal relocation in the host country or ensuring minimum standard of rights under the Refugee Convention.
The writer is Lecturer in Law, Feni Univesity.