Bangladesh is relocating several Rohingya refugees to a remote island

A ship carrying about 1,400 refugees is expected to arrive in the next few days in Bhasan Charra, an island about 40 kilometers (24 miles) off the coast, near the city of Chittagong, according to Bangladesh Secretary of State Shahriar Alam. Foreign affairs.

The Bangladeshi government has spent years building a network of shelters on the island to accommodate up to 100,000 people currently living in widespread refugee camps at Cox Bazaar, near the Myanmar border.

But human rights groups and the refugees themselves have long been expressed concern about the safety of the uninhabited, low-lying island, which is often partially submerged during the monsoon season and exposed to cyclones.

Human Rights Watch described the conditions on the island as “strict” and Rohingya is likely to face a lack of adequate medical care. The group also expressed concern that refugees there could be denied freedom of movement, a sustainable livelihood or education. Nor is it clear what role humanitarian agencies can play there, if any.

According to a statement by Refugees International, the relocation is “short-sighted and inhumane” and should be stopped.

“Without proper assessments and adequate information to refugees about the conditions on the island, this move is nothing more than a dangerous mass detention of the Rohingya people in violation of international human rights obligations,” said Daniel Sullivan, the group’s leading human rights advocate.

“Limited” UN involvement

The government has been building facilities on Bhasan Char for several years to ease the pressure of the overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar, which are home to about one million Rohingya refugees.

Many of the refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to avoid violent military attacks in 2017, as a result of which the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population from genocide. Myanmar denies allegations of genocide and maintains military “customs clearance operations” that were legitimate counter-terrorism measures.

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The United Nations said in a statement that it had not been involved in the preparations and had received “limited information” on the relocations. He was not granted access to the island for safety and technical assessments.

“Rohingya refugees need to be able to make a free and informed decision to move to Bhasan Char based on relevant, accurate and up-to-date information,” the statement said.

“The relocation to Bhasan Char should be preceded by comprehensive technical security assessments. These independent UN assessments would review the security, feasibility and sustainability of Bhasan Char as a refugee residence and the protection and assistance framework. Services to which they can access the island.”

Facilities for the accommodation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char Island, Bangladesh, on November 12, 2020.

Hospitals, schools

On Thursday, 933 Rohingya refugees left the Cox Bazaar camps in Chittagong and are expected to travel more than 400 on Friday, Alam said. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.

Both groups are then expected to travel 2.5 hours on a naval ship to Bhasan Char.

Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, Bangladeshi naval commander and project director for Bhasan Char Island, said the island can accommodate up to 100,000 people in 120 shelters.

Each shelter can accommodate between 800 and 1,000 people, and each family has a 12-foot by 14-foot (3.6-meter by 4.3-meter) unit with bunk beds, he said.

The shelters were built 14 feet above ground level “for any cyclone” and were able to withstand winds of 260 mph (161 mph), Chowdhury added. There are also two 20-bed hospitals, as well as community clinics and on-site medical staff, as well as three schools.

“We’re ready in every way,” Chowdhury said. “We take care of food, medical care, security.”

Fears of forced relocation

Bangladesh maintained that the resettlement process would be voluntary, but several advocacy groups have expressed concern that refugees could be forced.

According to Human Rights Watch, about a dozen families said their names were on the list of people willing to leave, but they did not volunteer to move. There are reports that some of the refugees on the list have fled for fear of forced relocation.

“The Bangladeshi government is actively rejecting its promise to the UN that no refugees will be relocated to Bhasan Char Island until humanitarian experts give the green light,” said Brad Adams, Asian Director of Human Rights Watch. “If the government really trusted the island’s livability, they would be transparent and in no hurry to circumvent the UN’s technical assessment.”

Bangladesh’s foreign minister did not immediately answer CNN’s questions about the need to relocate refugees.

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Fortify Rights reported that some Rohingya living in Cox Bazaar camps were told by leaders of unelected Rohingya camps that they could be in the front row for repatriation to Myanmar if they went to Bhasan Char.

“We are already seeing worrying signs of coercion,” said Ismail Wolff, regional director of fortification rights. “If the authorities produce consent without deprivation and false promises, we are in the realm of forced renditions.”
About 300 Rohingya fled, stranded at sea for weeks They were the first to try to flee to Malaysia to be transported to the island in May. Some on the island have carried out hunger strikes in protest to keep them there against their will and, according to advocacy organizations, to claim beatings by the authorities.

Chowdhury said the government decided to bring some of these people back to Cox’s bazaar because “families were smashed.” He said many of the refugees on the island were women who wanted to reunite with their relatives.