Cablegate: Addressing the Rohingya Refugee Situation in The

DE RUEHKA #1151/01 3090945
O 040945Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

B. IIR 6-925-0229-08
C. IIR 9-925-0230-08


1. (U) Previous international assistance for Burmese Muslim
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has focused largely on those
who have been formally registered with the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While this approach
has improved the well being of the registered refugees, it
has three important drawbacks. First, it has not affected
the roughly 100,000-500,000 Rohingya who are unregistered and
live outside the camps. Second, it has encouraged a culture
of dependency among the registered refugees. Finally, it has
exacerbated conflict between the Rohingya and their
Bangladeshi neighbors, who, in an already economically
underdeveloped region, resent that conditions are sometimes
better in the camps than in the surrounding villages. Our
proposed new strategy seeks to extend measured support to the
unregistered Rohingya, while also taking steps to expand
livelihood, health, security, and education programs to
Bangladeshis living in the vicinity of the camps. End


2. (U) Reftels describe the current situation of Rohingya
refugees living in Cox's Bazar district and warn of the
possibility that this vulnerable, predominantly Muslim
population could prove an attractive target for recruitment
into violent, religious extremist organizations. UNHCR has
registered and provides support to over 27,800 Rohingya
refugees. In the past year, the number of unregistered
Rohingya residing in seprate sites has increased from 10,000
to 15,000. Overall, the Rohingya population in the Cox's
Bazar area may be as high as 500,000, with the vast majority
residing outside of the UNHCR camps. Many Rohingya have been
stateless for decades, and deteriorating conditions for
Rohingya living in Burma has increased the rate of new
migration into Bangladesh. All are vulnerable.

3. (U) The Dhaka Steering Group - comprised of UNHCR, the
U.S., and western donor nations - formulates and coordinates
strategies on Rohingya issues. Donors have provided tens of
millions of dollars in assistance to the Rohingya since the
last large-scale refugee influx in the early 1990s. The
international community shares one goal: to find a durable
solution to this persistent refugee situation. Interagency
efforts should focus on how USG assistance could be better
targeted to address the underlying conditions that exacerbate
vulnerabilities to extremist influence, while at the same
time supporting overall development objectives in the area.

Who are the Rohyinga?

4. (U) According to accepted estimates, between
150,000-500,000 Rohingya live in South East Bangladesh. They
fall into three groups: 1) those registered and recognized as
refugees, 2) those living in camps/sites that are not
registered, and 3) those integrated into the general
community. Approximately 27,800 Rohingya live in two camps
administered by the UNHCR. These camps provide basic
support, such as medical, shelter, food, education, and
protection. The Government of Bangaldesh (GOB) formally
recognizes people in these as refugees. In contrast, the
number of unregistered refugees is approximately 15,000, with
at least 10,000 people at the Leda site and approximately
5,000 living outside of Kutapalong, one of the UNHCR camps.
People in Leda receive support from the NGO Islamic Relief,
which receives funding from the European Commission. Those
outside of Kutupalong receive no formal support and rely
increasingly on charity from refugees living in the camp.
Finally, integrated Rohingya live in villages throughout
South East Bangladesh. They share a common language and
ethnic connection with Bengalis living in the Chittagong
Division, yet during the government's voter registration

DHAKA 00001151 002 OF 004

drive in 2007 and 2008, Rohingya who could not document
Bangladeshi citizenship were not allowed to register. In
some cases, village cheiftans who had allowed Rohyinga to
settle in their villages apparently feared government
retribution and forced those Rohingya out of their homes and
into the camps.

A Population in Peril

5. (U) Underlying conditions that contribute to vulnerability
of Rohingya include: lack of access to basic education,
livelihoods, training, community mobilization, shelter, legal
status, freedom of movement, and police protection. Violent
exchanges with local Bangladeshis may occasionally occur,
further marginalizing Rohingya. In addition, Rohingya
insurgents and questionable international charities have also
been active among the refugee populations, further
contributing to increased vulnerability to extremism.

6. (U) Significant political obstacles exist to changing the
status quo regarding refugee treatment. Most significantly,
the GOB has not officially supported the integration of
Rohingya refugees into Bangladeshi society. While
repatriation remains the ultimate goal of the UNHCR, the
prospect of repatriation under current political realities in
Burma is an unlikely outcome and many refugees do not welcome
this option. Moreover, the GOB asserted that such measures
would attract additional Rohingya to the camps.

Western Strategy at a Crossroads

7. (U) The UNHCR, supported by a Dhaka Steering Group (DSG)
consisting of the diplomatic missions of Australia, the
European Union, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the
United Kingdom, and the United States, is looking at
extending additional support to the Rohingya. Current
efforts focus only on delivering assistance to the registered
refugee population, but the DSG hopes to develop a more
holistic, district-wide approach. Key elements would include
opening the camps by providing the refugees freedom of
movement and the right to work. Additionally, unregistered
refugees would be registered and receive assistance, but at
the same time would not be encouraged to move into camps.

8. (U) The UNHCR has informally proposed ways that donors
could assist in the refugee response effort. (Note: In some
cases, these proposals recommend extending or expanding
existing support provided through PRM. End Note) Inside the
camps, UNHCR invited the USG to do the following:

-- Expand skills training to include income generating

-- Ensure that current medical support, to include support to
the disabled, remains funded.

-- Expand community mobilization programs in the camps.

-- Improve physical infrastructure in the camps, to include
construction of shelters and interior roads.

9. (U) Outside the camps, UNHCR requested donors consider
helping with the following measures:

-- Expand access to justice by improving policing in the
upazilas, or sub-districts, where the camps are located.
This would include implementation of community policing
initiatives, specifically addressing gender-based violence
and victim support centers.

-- Develop initiatives to limit the environmental impact of
the Rohingya and find ways to involve the Rohingya in
existing forestry programs.

-- Expand access to education for refugee children by
building new public schools in the area that would serve both
Rohingya and Bangladeshi students.

DHAKA 00001151 003 OF 004

Where the USG Stands

10. (U) The USG currently has several development programs
operating in the Cox,s Bazar area. They include USAID,s
environment, health and livelihood programs, as well as
PRM-supported health, education and livelihood programming to
registered refugees. At this time, we want to expand
educational opportunities to the 10,000 unregistered refugees
near the Leda site. The PACOM Augmentation Team (PAT) is
preparing the FY09 Foreign Humanitarian Assistance plan,
which could make up to $1M available for infrastructure
projects in the area. Additionally, the PAT's Information
Support Team (IST) has anti-violence programs that might also
be used to assist in police outreach to the community.

11. (U) At the same time, USAID is developing targeted
economic development activities in the Cox,s Bazar region.
USAID supports the GOB,s protected area program under which
the Teknaf reserve is a fundamental geographic focus. The
official Rohingya camps are near or abut the Teknaf reserve,
and parts of the informal camps are actually located in the
reserve itself. USAID,s protected area approach includes
co-management of the key natural resources with the local
communities. Bangladeshi Forestry Officials as well as local
Bangladeshi leaders have resisted including the Rohingya
population in these efforts in any way. Previous USAID
efforts to carry out livelihood activities and to introduce
energy-saving technology in the camps were discouraged by
both the government and the UNHCR for fear of attracting
additional potential refugees. As noted above, the
government and the UNHCR strategy has changed.

Recommendations from the Embassy,s Interagency Team
============================================= =======

12. (U) Embassy Dhaka recommends that fugure USG efforts
concentrate on the following:

-- Increase access to education by constructing new school
buildings in the vicinity of the camps. Work with UNICEF and
the government to allow Rohingya children to attend the
schools. In addition, immediately implement a program for
the unregistered refugees that would train women to
informally teach in their homes, with mentorship from capable
registered refugees.

-- Decrease the motivating factors that drive competition and
violence between the Bangladeshi villagers and the Rohingya
by expanding existing livelihood programs to focus on the
parts of the district where the camps are located. This
could include existing and planned USAID livelihood programs
and the expansion of PRM skills training to prepare people
for employment in those sectors. At the same time, improve
community mobilization within the Rohingya population by
supporting the existing community-based counsel system for
conflict resolution and advocacy. Also, implement
anti-violence and civic responsibility messaging in the camps
and surrounding communities.

-- Decrease tension among local government, forestry
officials, and Rohingya by reducing unregistered refugees,
dependence on the forest lands for biomass fuel by providing
them with high efficiency stoves and fuel. Additionally,
look for ways to integrate Rohingya into the Teknaf
co-management committee and include Rohingya labor in
forestry initiatives that would channel Rohingya labor
towards reforestation. (Note: The UN Food and Agriculture
Organization, UNFAO, is developing such a proposal. End

-- Increase police protection for Rohingya by working with
the police to implement model police stations that include
victim service centers. Also, continue to exert political
pressure on the GOB to reduce or eliminate restrictions on
movement and work. Additionally, improve local border
security through targeted and sustained assistance to the
Bangladesh Rifles, Bangladesh Coast Guard, and Bangladesh

-- Increase awareness of civic rights and responsibilities
through print media, sporting events, and local media that

DHAKA 00001151 004 OF 004

include environmental and anti-violence messages.

-- Increase the prosperity of the area by encouraging
improvements in trade, fisheries, tourism, and agriculture
sectors through existing and new programming, such as
public-private partnerships.

-- Improve access to formal banking services to allow
Rohingya to build wealth through work and remittances.


13. (U) This approach will raise a number of questions that
will need to be answered. First, it is necessary to reassure
the GOB that this is not a scheme to lead refugees towards
Bangladeshi citizenship. Second, local Bangladeshi leaders
want guarantees that the Rohingya population is not taking
job opportunities away from the local Bangladeshi population.
Third, to protect the Teknaf reserve it is important to
involve all stakeholders, including Rohingya, in its
preservation. Fourth, extremist elements could taint the
best of efforts. Involving the religious leadership in Cox's
Bazar, a traditionally more conservative part of the country,
could be a good counter-weight. Inclusion of Imams from in
and around the camps under USAID's Leader of Influence
program could assist in developing greater tolerance and
understanding between the Rohingya and local Bangladeshi
groups. Finally, Burma may see an improvement of conditions
for its refugees in Bangladesh as an opportunity to open an
escape valve and push more Rohingya into Bangladesh.
Similarly, improved conditions in Bangladesh could serve as a
magnet for disaffected populations within Burma. Border
security as well as diplomatic efforts will need to be
deepened and strengthened to stem a potential tide of new


14. (U) With this proposal, Post plans to expand our "3-D"
strategy * democracy, development, and denial of space to
terrorists * to include this vulnerable population and
geographic location. Post's interagency, in this case
consisting primarily of DOS, USAID, and DOD, have partnered
together to develop this strategy. To the extent possible,
we will use existing resources and programs in pursuing this
strategy. Still, Post requests USG agencies and departments
identify resources and programs to support this effort.

© Scoop Media

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