Rohingya barbed wire fence widely condemned
Date: 11 May 2021 | Remove The Fence Campaign
UN experts and prominent human rights figures have called on Bangladesh to immediately dismantle the barbed wire fencing that trapped people trying to escape a deadly fire in the Rohingya refugee camps.
Fire engulfed parts of the Kutupalong refugee camp on 22nd March 2021, killing at least 15. Panicked refugees were forced to squeeze through narrow entrances and cut through the fencing. More than 50,000 people had their homes destroyed.
"Nothing justifies constructing barbed wire fences around places where human beings live," former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, told Remove the Fence. "I was utterly shocked to see barbed wire fences being constructed during my last visit to Cox's Bazar in January 2020."
Bangladeshi authorities embarked on plans for barbed wire fencing in September 2019, justifying the army-led project by claiming “security” concerns. The objective was to restrict the movement of the Rohingya refugees to the camp areas. By the beginning of 2021, eighty percent of the fencing had been completed, involving over 142 kms of fencing.
Even before the fire, refugees had complained that the barbed-wire fence had adversely impacted their lives. Thousands of refugees had to move their homes to make way for the fencing. Hundreds of facilities designated for refugee use fell outside the fence perimeter, making clinics and markets inaccessible for pregnant women, the elderly and the infirm who had to travel much longer distances to reach them. Livelihoods were affected, as refugees could not engage in informal work because of the increased restrictions on movement.
Eric Schwarz, President of Refugees International, said “The Government of Bangladesh should immediately remove the fencing and put humanitarianism back at the center of the Rohingya response.”
Yanghee Lee’s predecessor, Tomas Ojea Quintana, similarly condemned the fencing. “What a cruel destiny for a community decimated by the horror of genocide, to end up being threatened by sharp barbed wire. We shouldn't tolerate such inhumanity.”
A number of well-known international aid agencies, including Save The Children, Action Aid, Christian Aid, World Vision, VSO and others, issued a statement highlighting the problems created by the barbed wire fence during the devastating fire: “The fencing hampered the ability of refugees to escape and caused significant delays to fire services. The delays contributed to greater damage to the homes, learning centers and health facilities, upon which the refugees rely, particularly in one camp where everything was destroyed.”
Refugees themselves recounted in harrowing detail how the barbed wire blocked their escape or prevented them from taking their belongings. One Rohingya mother, told the Remove the Fence campaign, how her two-and-a-half-year old daughter went missing for four days: “We weren’t able to save anything because of the fence. We lost so much. In the chaos, I lost my daughter. I thought she was burnt alive like the other children. We found her after four days.”
Barrister Megan Hirst, who is representing Rohingya victims at the International Criminal Court said: “The barbed wire fencing is horrifying in its symbolism and cruel in its impact on daily life. Now it has killed. What more reason does Bangladesh need to remove it?”
Within two weeks of the March fire, another broke out in Kutupalong Bazar on 2nd April. As in the previous one, refugees had to smash through the barbed wire to escape. Tun Khin, President of British Rohingya Organisation UK, said: “Aid agencies said they were horrified when they heard refugees were trapped & unable to reach safety because of the barbed wire fence. This fence must go.”
The Bangladeshi authorities have continued the installation of the barbed wire, and it is projected that the works will finish in June of 2021. Earlier this year, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told the press, “They are refugees. They must live within the camps. They cannot go out. The government is building the barbed-wire fencing around the camps so that the Rohingya can stay inside the camps with safety and security.”
Bangladeshi human rights defender, Shahidul Alam, commented on the fence in a widely shared webinar and added that far from providing safety and security, “Barbed wire kills and has no place in a free society.” Celebrated artist Ai Weiwei also lent his support to the Remove the Fence campaign and said, “Barbed wire fence is an insult to humanity.”
Full list of comments provided to the Remove the Fence Campaign:
"The barbed wire fencing surrounding the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh is a very real threat to Rohingya lives. The Government of Bangladesh should immediately remove the fencing and put humanitarianism back at the center of the Rohingya response." Eric Schwarz, President, Refugees International
"I was utterly shocked to see barbed wire fences being constructed during my last visit to Cox's Bazar in January 2020. Nothing justifies constructing barbed wire fences around places where human beings live." Professor Yanghee Lee, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar
"Barbed wire fence is an insult to humanity." Ai Weiwei, Artist and Activist
“Barbed wire? A 19th century idea, to enclose cattle. Humans are not cattle.” Professor Philippe Sands, Barrister representing The Gambia v Myanmar, ICJ
"What a cruel destiny for a community decimated by the horror of genocide, to end up being threatened by sharp barbed wire. We shouldn't tolerate such inhumanity." Tomas Ojea Quintana, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar
"The barbed wire fencing is horrifying in its symbolism, and cruel in its impact on daily life. Now it has killed. What more reason does Bangladesh need to remove it?" Megan Hirst, Barrister representing Rohingya victims at the ICC
"The barbed wire fences that have been erected around Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh represent a grave threat to their safety, liberty and dignity. They must be dismantled immediately!" Dr Jeff Crisp, Former Head of Policy Development & Evaluation, UNHCR
"Exclusion - the word that marks the Rohingya. Exclusion from their homes, from their land, from the country of their birth. And now trapped behind barbed wire fences like convicted prisoners. This must stop." Laetitia van den Assum, Ex-Diplomat & formerly, Advisory Commission on Rakhine State
"Barbed wire kills and has no place in a free society." Shahidul Alam, Photographer, Writer and Activist
“Although Rohingya refugees can’t go home to Myanmar yet, they should be living in a healthy environment, not in dangerous wire-fenced fire traps.” Edith Mirante, Author & Activist
"Two years ago I said - setting up barbed wire fence is like putting Rohingya into concentration camps. I stand by that statement." Nay San Lwin, Co-founder, Free Rohingya Coalition
"Aid agencies said they were horrified when they heard refugees were trapped & unable to reach safety because of the barbed wire fence. This fence must go." Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
"Rohingya lives matter as do yours. The right to live cannot be abolished or violated by barbed wire fences." Dr Ambia Perveen, Chair, European Rohingya Council
"The idea that any refugee escaping genocide would be subjected to the indignity and inhumanity of being forced into a camp should turn the stomach of every feeling human. That these same refugees, among them children and the infirm, were caged behind a fortified fence that prohibited their escape from the horror of a fire that swept through the camp- and that so many died excruciating deaths as a result- should stir the soul of every man, woman and child to cry out in solidarity, compassion and support of the Rohingya people." Thomas Sadoski, Actor.
“Give me one good reason why hundreds of thousands of people should be imprisoned in barbed wire fencing. Are they not humans? Are they any different to any of us ?” Ruby Aktar, Rohingya Student
NOTE TO EDITORS:
The Remove the Fence campaign was set up to campaign to remove the barbed wire fence in the Rohingya camps of Bangladesh. The image of the barbed wire fence and the child in the razor wire above may be used, with credit and link (where possible) to the Remove The Fence campaign. More information is available in the links below.
• Website: https://removethefence.com
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/removethefence
• Contact: H. Bahra +44797965658