World HRW says UN shared Rohingya data without their ‘informed consent’
Months at sea: Boat carrying Rohingya washes up in Indonesia
81 refugees on Idaman Island are staying in emergency tents and have been provided with food and water by locals.The small wooden boat was discovered early morning on Friday in waters off Idaman Island off the coast of Aceh province, about two hours away from the town of Lhokseumawe, which is usually only used as a rest spot for fishermen in the area.
Human Rights Watch says the UN improperly collected and shared data from more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees with their host country Bangladesh, which passed it on to Myanmar, the country they fled, and is calling for an investigation.
Over the past three years, the UN refugee agency has registered hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps, enabling Dhaka to provide them with identity cards needed to access essential aid and services.
Rohingya on Bangladesh island feel trapped, fear monsoons: HRW
Human Rights Watch interviews 167 Rohingya refugees and says they were moved ‘without full, informed consent’.About 18,800 refugees have been moved from the Cox’s Bazar region – where approximately 850,000 people live in squalid and cramped conditions after fleeing Myanmar – to the low-lying silt island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal.
But according to a new HRW report, the refugees were generally not made aware that the data they were providing would also be used by the Bangladeshi government to submit details about them to authorities in neighbouring Myanmar, with a view to possible repatriation.
“The UN refugee agency’s data collection practices with Rohingya in Bangladesh were contrary to the agency’s own policies and exposed refugees to further risk,” Lama Fakih, HRW’s crisis and conflict director, said in a statement.
The UNHCR refuted this, with spokesman Andrej Mahecic telling AFP news agency that the refugee agency has “clear policies in place to ensure the safeguarding of the data we collect when registering refugees all over the world”.
Myanmar's anti-junta movement shows viral support for Rohingya
Anti-junta protesters flooded Myanmar's social media with pictures of themselves wearing black Sunday in a show of solidarity for the Rohingya, a minority group that is among the most persecuted in the country. Since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in a February 1 coup, an anti-junta movement demanding a return to democracy has grown to include fighting for ethnic minority rights. The mostly Muslim Rohingya -- long viewed as interlopers from Bangladesh by many in Myanmar -- have for decades been denied citizenship, rights, access to services and freedom of movement.
Rohingya not asked for ‘informed consent’
The HRW, however, said the refugees often likely did not understand that the data being collected, including photographs, fingerprints and biographic data, could be shared with Myanmar.
This, the report said, was particularly concerning in the case of the approximately 880,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, many of whom fled a 2017 crackdown in Myanmar that UN investigators say amounted to genocide.
The global rights group interviewed 24 Rohingya refugees between September 2020 and March 2021 about their experience registering with UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, along with aid workers and others who witnessed or participated in the registration.
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The UN agency insisted its staff asked Rohingya for permission to share their data for repatriation eligibility assessments, and explained that the so-called Smart Card needed to access aid would be issued regardless of whether they agreed to sharing the information.
It also said it had provided individual advice to ensure refugees “fully understood the purpose of the exercise”.
But all but one of the 24 refugees told HRW they were never informed the data would be used for anything beyond establishing aid access.
They were given a receipt with a box ticked stating they had agreed to the data being shared with Myanmar – but it was provided only in English, which only three of them could read.
“What became very quickly clear to us is that Rohingya we were speaking to had not been asked for informed consent,” senior HRW researcher Belkis Wille told AFP.
She urged the UNHCR to conduct “an investigation to look carefully at why the decisions at the time were made the way they were”.
Wille acknowledged it was “hard to generalise based on the small sample size” of refugees HRW had spoken with.
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South Korean authorities are failing to properly tackle the country's widespread digital sex crimes against women, which have a devastating impact on victims, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said Wednesday. South Korean officials "in the criminal legal system –- most of whom are men –- often seem to simply not understand, or not accept, that these are very serious crimes," said HRW's Heather Barr, the report author. In 2019, almost 45 percent of sexual digital crime cases were dropped by the country's prosecution, compared with 19 percent of robbery cases and 27.7 percent of homicides, the report said.
But she pointed to reports that Bangladesh had submitted data on at least 830,000 Rohingya to Myanmar – nearly every Rohingya refugee in the country.
“It is hard to imagine that every single one would have agreed,” she said.
Myanmar has meanwhile used that data to reportedly greenlight some 42,000 Rohingya for return.
They include 21 of the refugees interviewed by HRW, who all said they only learned their data had been shared when they were informed they had been approved to return to Myanmar.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, but has said it will welcome back those agreeing to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship.
The UNHCR stressed that any returns to Myanmar would be “based on the individual and voluntary choice of refugees”.
Wille also highlighted that Bangladesh had so far not forced any refugees to go back.
“But they are on lists and now Myanmar authorities know that they’re sitting in Bangladesh, so if the situation changes, that risk has been opened up effectively,” she said.
The UN has condemned Myanmar’s military coup. Will that matter? .
“We cannot live in a world where military coups become a norm,” the UN Secretary-General said.The condemnation comes as UN officials express concern that the nation is on the brink of civil war and as humanitarian conditions worsen for civilians. While significant, though, the vote itself revealed complicated geopolitics that may stymie a more forceful international response to the situation.