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Rights groups: Halt relocation of Rohingya to remote island

  • Published at 11:33 am December 3rd, 2020
rohingya camp
File photo of a Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The authorities have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees to be relocated

The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhashan Char island, said Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights, Amnesty International and Refugees International on Thursday.

Bangladesh authorities have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees to be relocated, beginning with transfers to the port city of Chittagong on Thursday.

The Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees and freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the United Nations’ (UN) call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment, said the human rights organizations.

“The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhashan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

“If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments,” he added.

UN statement

In a statement on December 2, UN said that it had not been involved in preparation for this transfer to Bhashan Char and that “any relocations to Bhashan Char should be preceded by comprehensive technical protection assessments,” reiterating that the UN stood ready to proceed with such assessments “if permitted by the government.” 

Though the government claims that any relocation will be voluntary, HRW recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the list, but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate. Some refugees on the list have fled out of fear of forced relocation.

The government has provided limited information to refugees about the actual conditions on the island, and there are some allegations that the authorities may have offered misleading information and incentives to move there, according to HRW.

Some refugees said that they willingly volunteered to go to Bhasan Char because they were told by the majhis and volunteers that they would be able to choose livelihood opportunities, such as fishing or farming, that they would have better access to health facilities, and that their children would get education.

However, the conditions on the island for the over 300 Rohingya refugees currently held there is poor, said HRW. Healthcare workers in Cox’s Bazar and refugees who previously visited the island expressed serious concerns about the lack of adequate medical care on the island. 

“Donor governments engaged in the Rohingya crisis response such as the US, UK, Japan, Australia, and Canada should take a clear stand against this rash move to relocate Rohingya to Bhasan Char,” Adams said. “Decisions to move after the completion of technical assessments need to be voluntary and fully informed.”

Also read - Rohingyas leave camps in groups for Bhashan Char

Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said: “The authorities should immediately halt relocation of more refugees to Bhashan Char, return those on the island to their families and community in mainland Bangladesh, and follow due process including the full and meaningful participation of refugees in any plan for their relocation.

“The relocation of so many Rohingya refugees to a remote island, which is still off limits to everyone including rights groups and journalists without prior permission, poses grave concerns about independent human rights monitoring.”

Refugees International Senior Advocate for Human Rights Daniel Sullivan said: “Bangladesh’s announced plan to begin relocating Rohingya refugees this week to Bhasan Char—an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal—is short-sighted and inhumane. 

“Bangladesh should halt this hasty relocation process,” said Ismail Wolff, regional director of Fortify Rights. “Not one refugee should be moved until all human rights and humanitarian concerns have been resolved and genuine informed consent is assured.”

“We’re already seeing worrying signs of coercion,” said Ismail Wolff. “If the authorities are manufacturing consent through deprivations and false promises, then we’re in the territory of coercive transfers.”

From November 29 to December 1, the government arranged for Bangladeshi media to visit Bhasan Char, however, the authorities denied the journalists unfettered access to the island and requests to interview refugees on the island. 

In September, five international human rights organizations also sent a letter to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen requesting access to island but received no response.

More than 300 Rohingya are currently arbitrarily detained on Bhasan Char after Bangladesh authorities rescued them from a ship stranded at sea in May 2020. 

In 2015, the Bangladesh government began developing Bhasan Char to relocate more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar District. 

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