Dhaka, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- Bangladesh authorities allegedly thrashed Rohingya refugees, including children, who protesting against their detention on a remote and “dangerous” island in the Bay of the Bengal, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
The New York-based rights group said the Naval officers allegedly beat the refugees in retribution for their hunger strike that began on Sep. 21 to demand reunification with their families in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.
“In a darkly ironic attempt to portray Bhasan Char as a safe location, Bangladesh authorities beat Rohingya refugees, including children, who were protesting their detention and begging to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement.
The nonprofit said it interviewed eight refugees who were on the hunger strike.
“Navy personnel used tree branches and black rubber sticks to beat us,” HRW quoted a refugee as saying.
“They beat the protesting women and men, and even the children who were standing with their mothers.” HRW said, adding that it examined photos that showed injuries sustained by refugees because of beatings.
The Bangladesh Navy has denied the allegations.
“They were fleeing the island and we have bought them back to the houses. Some went for hunger strikes, but we did not force them. We have kept their food as per the directives and fed the children. The allegation of torture is totally wrong,” Navy Commodore Mamun Chowdhury, who is also Project Director of Bhasan Char, told EFE.
Some 300 Rohingyas, who had been stranded at sea for several weeks, were rescued by the Bangladesh Navy in May and were taken to the island, where they have been held for four months now.
HRW said that the refugees went on a hunger strike just days after the government organized a “go and see” visit in which 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar were taken to the island for three days.
Bangladesh authorities on Sep. 5 arranged a three-day “go-and-see visit” to Bhasan Char.
HRW said earlier that refugees “begged to be allowed to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar camps.”
The island, usually hit by monsoon floods, emerged from the sea about a decade ago. It covers an area of about 40 sq km, or 16 square miles, and is accessible only by boat.
The government has said it built 1,440 housing structures to shelter some 100,000 people on the island, as a part of a project started in 2017.
However, the government’s initial plan of relocating the Rohingyas to the flood-prone island was halted in February amid criticisms from rights groups, who asked the authorities not to replace one humanitarian crisis with another. EFE-EPA