Dhaka, Dec 3 (efe-epa).- Global rights groups and the United Nations on Thursday urged Bangladesh to immediately halt its plan to relocate Rohingya refugees to a never-inhabited island that is prone to cyclones and floods.
Human Right Watch, in a statement, said the Bangladesh authorities “have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees” for the planned relocation with transfers to the port city of Chattogram on Thursday before taking them to remote Bhasan Char island.
“The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhasan Char island,” HRW said.
“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’ call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.”
However, the government has not confirmed the relocation date even though it has been preparing the island for years to ease overcrowding in its refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, housing over a million Rohingya refugees.
“We have yet to set a date to begin the relocation. We will announce it in due time,” Additional Commissioner for Aid and Refugee Repatriation Shamsuddoha told EFE in Dhaka.
Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate Rohingyas to the 40-sq km island located in the Bay of Bengal.
The government undertook a project in November 2017 to develop the island under the responsibility of its navy and claimed to have built 1,440 housing structures, which can shelter some 100,000 people.
But the authorities put the plan on hold after the UN expressed its doubts over living conditions on the island.
The Bangladesh government has said any relocation would be voluntary.
But HRW said it recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the relocation list but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate.
The rights group said some refugees on the list had fled out of fear of forced relocation.
“The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.
“If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments.”
Amnesty International, in a statement, also urged the Bangladesh authorities to “immediately halt relocation of more refugees to Bhashan Char.”
Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said the authorities should 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,” Hammadi said.
“It is crucial that the Bangladeshi authorities must let the UN, rights groups and humanitarian agencies carry out independent assessments of Bhashan Char’s habitability first before taking any steps to relocate people there.
“No relocation plan, either to Bhashan Char or to another location, can be undertaken without the full and informed consent of the individuals involved.”
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since Aug 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide. EFE-EPA