Dhaka, Apr 27 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Tuesday flagged the alleged torture and arbitrary arrest of many Rohingya refugees for trying to abandon a remote island where they had been transferred, supposedly voluntarily, to decongest the crowded refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.
The Bangladeshi government has so far relocated around 20,000 refugees to the Bhasan Char island in the Bay of Bengal, despite concerns among human rights groups over conditions on the island, which is prone to floods and had been uninhabited earlier.
HRW said in a statement that on Apr. 6, the security forces arrested and beat up at least a dozen refugees while they were trying to leave the island, also restricting their freedom of movement subsequently.
According to witness accounts, the security personnel beat up the Rohingyas during an interrogation at the newly constructed police station on Bhasan Char.
“The Bangladesh government saved countless lives by providing refuge to Rohingya people, but this doesn’t justify detaining them on an island and beating them if they try to move,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
“The burden Bangladesh has taken on in caring for Rohingya refugees does not negate its responsibility to ensure they are safe, and their rights are respected,” he added.
The families of at least two of the detained Rohingyas told HRW that they lacked information about their whereabouts, and alleged that they had received calls from people declaring themselves to be police officers, demanding bribes for revealing their relatives’ location.
The office-in-charge of Bhasan Char police station, Mahe Alam, denied the allegations of torture or arrest of Rohingyas for trying to leave the island, but acknowledged that the refugees aren’t allowed to leave.
“It’s a false allegation. Sometimes some Rohingyas try to leave and we take them back to the camp. No one was detained for that,” he said.
The officer said that a total of 27 refugees had been arrested on the island under various charges, including 11 for theft, and due legal process had been maintained.
In 2017, Bangladesh for the first time announced plans to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, spread over around 40 square kilometers, although the process was delayed due to international doubts until December 2020, when the first thousand refugees were transferred.
Around 738,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh after a campaign of persecution and violence launched by the Myanmar military in August 2017, which has been termed ethnic cleansing and similar to genocide by the United Nations, while international courts are investigating the incidents for crimes against humanity.
The two countries have twice tried to roll out a repatriation of the members of the mainly Muslim minority, but the attempts have failed as the refugees have refused to return until Myanmar guarantees citizenship and security on their native land.
The Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar has cast fresh doubts over the Rohingyas’ possible return in near future to their houses in the state of Rakhine. EFE