Last week, the Obama Administration moved to deport 85 Bangladeshi political asylum seekers. The would-be refugees were fleeing persecution resulting from simply being a member of the opposition Democratic Party. Most of them fled in 2014, at a time when Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League, began to classify all opposition party members as “terrorists,” and called for their imprisonment, torture or death.
Upon arriving in the United States, the asylum seekers found themselves in an even more precarious situation, as the US Department of Homeland Security adopted the terrorist designation for these individuals, as part of the Bangladeshi government’s persecution campaign. The asylum seekers were immediately detained and are now being deported back to Bangladesh, where they will be imprisoned, tortured or executed at the hands of authorities.
Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down on Tuesday with Chaumtoli Huq, a human rights attorney, to discuss the White House’s active involvement in political oppression and the anti-democratic crackdowns in Bangladesh.
The US turned away 100 South Asian asylum seekers, what will happen to them?
Huq explained that the situation involves not only Bangladeshi asylum seekers, but also Sikhs fleeing persecution in India, and some African immigrants who have been denied status in the wake of post-9/11 policy changes, ending the automatic granting of parole to asylum seekers.
The attorney explained that the plight of these asylum seekers, the majority of which are of Bangladeshi origin, came to light last Thanksgiving when the detained asylum seekers "started a hunger strike to say ‘no, we’re fleeing political persecution and we are not of any threat and should not be kept like criminals.’"
At that time, a campaign to free the asylum seekers was quickly shut down by the Obama administration, which expedited deportations of both the asylum seekers and many others who desired to immigrate to the US as a result of political harassment.
The #deported2death campaign and the danger Bangladeshi asylum seekers face
"#Deported2death is a hashtag and campaign by a group called Desis Rising Up (DRUM) to protest and shine a light on the plight of these asylum seekers," explained Huq.
Huq said that the root cause of the misclassification of Bangladeshi asylum seekers as terror suspects by the DHS, is a result of "an election where most of the opposition parties, due to conditions in Bangladesh, didn’t participate, so the current elected party won without opposition and, since 2014, have been categorizing the opposition as terrorists, so DHS began to designate them as terrorists after they fled Bangladesh. But they are not terrorists, they just belong to the opposition party."
Huq detailed that the Bangladeshi government applied the blanket designation of terrorist on every political opposition party. "Everyone who is part of Bangladesh’s Democratic Party was deemed a terrorist, they were the opposition or the second party."
The attorney calls for the DHS to issue the asylum seekers temporary protected status until conditions change, or until the US government can review their status. However, with the Obama Administration speeding up deportations for asylum seekers, the move is unlikely.
"When they are sent back to Bangladesh, where they are designated as terrorists, these people find themselves at risk of imprisonment, injury, torture and death," said Huq.