Rights body urges Bangladesh not to force Rohingya to move to island

By Md. Kamruzzaman


DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA): Human rights watchdog Fortify Rights urged Bangladesh on Sunday not to pressure Rohingya Muslim refugees to move to a remote island in the southern Bay of Bengal.

“The Bangladesh government should prevent coercive and involuntary transfers of Rohingya refugees from mainland camps to the isolated and flood-prone island of Bhasan Char,” it said in a statement.

Bangladeshi authorities on Sunday relocated 1,287 more Rohingya from mainland camps to the island, taking the total number of the stateless people in the concrete settlements on the island to nearly 21,000, according to official records.

Nearly 1.2 million Rohingya are currently living in the 34 congested refugee camps in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar, most of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in their home country of Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.

Bangladesh has built 1,400 big cluster houses four feet above the ground with concrete blocks and 120 multi-storied cyclone shelters on the island. Each cluster house is made up of 16 rooms.

Spending over $350 million from its domestic resources, the Muslim-majority country has developed a resettlement project on 13,000 acres (5,261 hectares) for temporarily resettling 100,000 Rohingya Muslims.

According to official sources, the silt island is located 50 kilometers (31 miles) off Bangladesh’s southwestern coast and nearly 193 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital Dhaka.

“Testimonies and videos obtained by Fortify Rights reveal patterns of coercive and involuntary transfers, including needless family separation,” said the rights body.

The statement added that such transfers of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char violate an agreement signed on Oct. 9, 2021 by Bangladesh and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“Refugees have rights, and the Bangladesh government and UN Refugee Agency have a responsibility to ensure those rights and prevent abusive, coercive transfers to Bhasan Char,” said Ismail Wolff, regional director of Fortify Rights.

“It’s cruel and inhumane to separate these families of genocide survivors,” he added.

Bangladesh denies charges

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Miah Md. Mainul Kabir, director general of the Myanmar wing at Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, said the entire relocation process is being conducted on a voluntary basis.

“Rohingya who are willing to shift to the better living settlements on the island have been relocated without any force,” he said.

Regarding Fortify Rights’ statement, he said the report was “baseless” and none of the concerned Bangladeshi offices were contacted before preparing such a report.

“Even in the latest team, there are an additional 90 members of Rohingya who have been allowed to visit the island, and they will return to the mainland camps and later can be shifted if they feel secure,” he added.

Kabir said that two batches of Rohingya who were earlier relocated to Bhasan Char had recently visited their relatives in the mainland camps and again returned to Bhasan Char on their own.

“We have developed a better living environment for Rohingya spending our own money until their peaceful and dignified repatriation to their home country,” he added.

[Archive Photo: Bangladesh begins resettling Rohingya refugees on disputed island Bhasan Char Island off the Bay of Bengal on 4 December 2020. Photographer: Stringer/AA]

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