Social Issues

Rohingya refugees arrive in remote island in Bangladesh despite criticism

By Monirul Alam and Azad Mazumder

Bhasan Char, Bangladesh/Dhaka, Dec 29 (efe-epa).- Mohammad Abdullah On Tuesday set sail for Bangladesh’s remote Bhasan Char island along with nearly 2,000 other Rohingya refugees, hoping to find a better life that remained elusive both in the overcrowded camps in the Cox’s Bazar district and his native Rakhine province in Myanmar.

However the lack of transparency in the transfer process has evoked criticism from international groups, including the United Nations, even though the government insists that the relocation is imperative for decongesting the camps, inhabited by around 738,000 Rohingyas who fled a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar in 2017.

“Those who came first, said they are doing fine, so we came. I am feeling good now. Hopefully I will get a good life there,” Abdullah told EFE onboard a Bangladesh navy vessel along with three other members of his family.

A total of 1,804 refugees, wearing life-jackets, undertook the three-hour journey between the southern port of Chittagong and the island on four military boat.

In Bhasan Char, workers could be seen carrying out refitting and disinfection works on facilities for the refugees amid strong security measures. A first group of 1,642 Rohingyas had already been taken to the island on Dec. 4

Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate Rohingyas to the 40-sq km island located in the Bay of Bengal, although the authorities had put the project on hold temporarily after international bodies expressed reservations about the project.

However, Dhaka has highlighted that in contrast with the squalid tarpaulin and plastic shacks at the makeshift refugee camps in southwest Bangladesh, facilities at the island developed by the navy include uninterrupted water and electricity supply, two hospitals and four community clinics.

Moreover, Basan Char is also equipped with cyclone shelters, plots of agricultural land, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, recreation and learning centers and even playgrounds for children – who account for more than half of the refugees – the government said.

“Our aim is now to ensure humanitarian support for the refugees. We will gradually engage them in income generating activities,” Bangladesh’s Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shamsuddoha told EFE on Tuesday.

Authorities have said that Rohingyas could go back to economic activities they used to depend on back in Myanmar, such as fishing, agriculture and goat-rearing.

However, concerns have remained despite the assurances, with nonprofits flagging the use of threats and pressure through economic incentives or other promises for making the refugees accept the transfers, although the government has insisted that all the relocations were voluntary.

International rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Dhaka to stop the process due to the conditions on the previously uninhabited island – which is prone to monsoon floods and cyclones – and the lack of transparency in the process.

“Very concerned with reports that up to 1,000 more #Rohingya refugees are heading to Bhashan Char island without UN assessment of the island’s safety and that relocation is voluntary. Have offered to do preliminary site visit to the island to meet with refugees,” tweeted Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“The United Nations has emphasized that Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char based upon relevant, accurate and updated information,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, told EFE. EFE-EPA


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