Protection in Protracted Refugee Situations: The case of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh
Protracted refugee situations present one of the most complex conundrums facing the global refugee regime. Protracted refugee situations give rise to specific legal and physical protection gaps such as arbitrary arrest, non-refoulement and sexual and gender-based violence. Through an analytical framework, this paper tries to explore what determines refugee protection in protracted refugee situations. The host state and international community’s responsibility, capacity and power are all presented as interlinking determinants. The case of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which the UNHCR highlighted as a protracted refugee situation that requires attention, is used to explore the question. Originating from Burma, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world and some have been living in limbo in Bangladesh for over 30 years. The case highlights that the distinction between registered and unregistered refugees significantly affects their level of protection. It concludes that responsibility and capacity are only important determinants of refugee protection in protracted refugee situations when connected to power and political will, which is the most influential determinant. The paper finds that the importance of host state’s power is more significant than assumed. It highlights the tension between international law and norms and the difficulty in finding an equilibrium between state sovereignty and universally expected adherence to human rights principles. It concludes that the international refugee regime must be strengthened so that the responsibilities set out in international law become a reality for refugees in protracted refugee situations. Furthermore, the international community must engage with and support host states to develop a positive perspective on protracted refugee situations and refugees in general.
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