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HomeGeopolitical CompassSouth & Southeast AsiaUN Shared Rohingya Data Without Informed Consent

UN Shared Rohingya Data Without Informed Consent

Author: Human Rights Watch

Affiliation: Human Rights Watch

Organization/Publisher: Human Rights Watch

Date/Place: June 15, 2021/New York, USA

Type of Literature: Report

Number of Pages: 13


Keywords: Libya, Migration Partnership Framework, Migration, Turkey


This report exposes the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its failure to obtain refugee’s informed consent before sharing their personal data with the genocidal government of Myanmar. This major failure in data collection practices with the Rohingya in Bangladesh contradicts the UN’s own agency policies and has exposed refugees to severe risk. Between 2020-2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted interviews with 24 refugees asking them about their experiences with the UN agency in Bangladesh, and it spoke with 20 aid workers, activists, analysts, journalists and lawyers who observed or took part in the registration process of the Rohingya. During the same time period, HRW sent detailed questions to the UNHCR. Through a joint exercise by the UNHCR and Bangladesh authorities to collect data during the provision of aid, both violated the right of obtaining the informed consent of the refugees by later sharing data with Myanmar. Bangladesh authorities hid the reason why the data was being collected by the UN agency, whose policies and protocols exist to ensure that refugees’ consent is not coerced as part of receiving assistance. UNHCR is required to use plain language in a manner that refugees understand why the agency is collecting data about them. HRW raised a high concern about the UNHCR’s combining the collection of people’s data for services or identity cards together with the data collection for repatriation eligibility. The refugees who are being targeted by Myanmar did not agree to have their data shared with Myanmar, nor did they understand their right to withdraw that consent or know how to do so. The UNHCR and Bangladesh authorities must accordingly look at the severe risk they may have caused when they relocate refugees to Myanmar. Rohingya are stateless and do not enjoy citizenship in Myanmar, as they bear all kinds of ill-treatments. HRW states its appreciation for the vital role of both Bangladesh and UNHCR, but its many reservations must still be taken into account and must be addressed. It is still perplexing and unclear why UNHCR and Bangladesh authorities are asking for facial images, fingerprints, and other biometric data. Because of this, HRW has included many recommendations: not to combine the collecting of data on individuals (to provide services or identification documents) together with the collecting of data for repatriation eligibility assessment or repatriation; field officers must conduct a detailed consent discussion with every person considered for repatriation eligibility, and for repatriation; sharing data only in accordance with UNHCR policies; imposing restrictions and safeguards that limit any authorities to access and share data with the governments; carrying out mandatory data assessments; and making sure that all data collection meets the requirements of necessity and proportionality.


By: Imad Atoui, CIGA Research Associate



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