Dhaka, Nov 23 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to stop the allegedly forced transfer of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island after reaching an agreement over the project with the United Nations, although authorities have insisted that the transfers were voluntary.
“Bangladesh authorities should halt relocations to Bhasan Char island until freedom of movement and other rights of Rohingya refugees are protected,” HRW said in a statement.
The group alleged that hundreds of families of the refugees, who fled from Myanmar after facing a wave of persecution in 2017 and are living in the camps in mainland Bangladesh, have been identified for “imminent” transfer to the islands
The Bangladeshi government’s controversial plan to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to the Bhasan Char island, which has been repeatedly criticized by human rights groups, was first announced in 2017.
So far the authorities have relocated around 20,000 members of the persecuted minority to the island, which has an area of around 40 square kilometers and is situated in the Bay of Bengal.
In October, the UN agreed to provide aid to the Rohingyas shifted to the remote island.
“Bangladesh’s October agreement with the UN doesn’t provide a free ticket to forcibly relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char,” said Bill Frelick, HRW’s refugee and migrant rights director.
On the contrary, donor governments will now be scrutinizing Bhasan Char to ensure their assistance doesn’t contribute to abuses,” he added.
HRW interviewed 18 refugees, community leaders and humanitarian workers on the ground at the refugee camps situated in Bangladesh’s southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, where most of the Rohingyas have been living.
According to their accounts, officials at the refugee camps and members of the security forces are coercing Rohingyas to move to the island.
However, Bangladeshi authorities have denied the repeated allegations of forced transfers.
The relocation is a voluntarily decision, we are not forcing anyone. The UN is always present in camp, they can easily monitor it,” Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat told EFE on Tuesday.
Hayat said that the process to transfer another 80,000 refugees to the island will kick off soon.
“We are doing our groundwork, finishing our arrangements, hopefully, we can start relocation at the end of this month and gradually continue the process up to April,” he said.
In another statement, Feroz Salah Uddin, the secretary general of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, told EFE that “every effort was being made” to improve the living conditions on the island, apart from preparing the Rohingyas who have been relocated there to prepare for cyclones, which are common in the area.
“Volunteer teams have been trained in early warning action drills, first aid, search and rescue, and managing cyclone shelters,” he said.
Around 738,000 arrived in Bangladesh after in August 2017 the Myanmar military launched a campaign of persecution and violence against them, actions which have been termed as an attempt at ethnic cleansing and are being investigated as possible crimes against humanity in international courts. EFE