Bangladesh begins relocating Rohingya refugees to floating island; human rights groups oppose process

The island's facilities are built to accommodate one lakh people, just a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in crowded, squalid refugee camps

The Associated Press December 03, 2020 23:37:47 IST
Bangladesh begins relocating Rohingya refugees to floating island; human rights groups oppose process

A Rohingya refugee woman who is among those being moved to an island called ‘Bhasan Char’ cries outside a transit area where they are temporally housed in Ukhiya, Bangladesh. AP

Dhaka: Authorities in Bangladesh have begun relocating thousands of Rohingya refugees to an isolated island despite calls by human rights groups for a halt to the process, officials said Thursday.

The United Nations has also voiced concern that refugees be allowed to make a free and informed decision about whether to relocate to the island in the Bay of Bengal.

The island's facilities are built to accommodate one lakh people, just a fraction of the 10 lakh Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in crowded, squalid refugee camps.

On Thursday, 11 passenger buses carrying refugees left Coxs Bazar district on the way to the island, where they are expected to arrive after an overnight stopover, a government official involved with the process said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

He said a few thousand" refugees were in the first batch. Authorities in Coxs Bazar did not say how the refugees were selected for relocation.

About 7 lakh Rohingya fled to the camps in Coxs Bazar after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown on the Muslim group following an attack by insurgents. The crackdown included rapes, killings and the torching of thousands of homes, and was termed ethnic cleansing by global rights groups and the UN.

Foreign media have not been permitted to visit the island, called Bhashan Char, or floating island. It was once regularly submerged by monsoon rains but now has flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals, and mosques built at a cost of more than $112 million by the Bangladesh Navy.

Located 21 miles (34 kilometers) from the mainland, the island surfaced only 20 years ago and was never inhabited.

Bangladesh begins relocating Rohingya refugees to floating island human rights groups oppose process

About 7 lakh Rohingya fled to the camps in Coxs Bazar after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown on the Muslim group following an attack by insurgents. AP

Contractors say its infrastructure is like a modern township, with multi-family concrete homes, schools, playgrounds and roads. It also has solar-power facilities, a water supply system and cyclone shelters.

International aid agencies and the UN have vehemently opposed the relocation since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.

The UN said in a statement Wednesday that it has not been involved in preparations for the relocation or the selection of refugees and has limited information about the overall plan.

"The United Nations takes this opportunity to highlight its longstanding position 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," it said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the government to cancel the relocation plan.

The current refugee camps near the town of Coxs Bazar are overcrowded and unhygienic. Disease and organised crime are rampant. Education is limited and refugees are not allowed to work.

Still, most Rohingya are unwilling to return to Myanmar due to safety concerns. Government officials didn't have an estimate of how many refugees would be willing to be relocated to the island.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly told the UN and other international partners that her administration would consult them before making a final decision on the relocation and that no refugees would be forced to move.

Bangladesh attempted to start sending refugees back to Myanmar under a bilateral framework last November, but no one was willing to go.

The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens in Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.

A UN-sponsored investigation in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence against the Rohingya.

Myanmar is defending itself in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, after the West African nation of Gambia brought a case backed by the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, Canada and the Netherlands over the crackdown.

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

UN chief hails Joe Biden's move to rejoin Paris Agreement on climate change
World

UN chief hails Joe Biden's move to rejoin Paris Agreement on climate change

Antonio Guterres also congratulated Washington for rejoining the World Health Organisation as one of Biden's first actions as president

Bangladesh vs West Indies: Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan star as hosts ease to six-wicket win in first ODI
First Cricket News

Bangladesh vs West Indies: Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan star as hosts ease to six-wicket win in first ODI

Shakib, playing his first ODI after a one-year ban, helped Bangladesh bowl out a weakened West Indies for 122 in just 32.2 overs.

Bangladesh vs West Indies, Highlights, 1st ODI at Dhaka: Hosts chase down visitors with ease in six-wicket win
First Cricket News

Bangladesh vs West Indies, Highlights, 1st ODI at Dhaka: Hosts chase down visitors with ease in six-wicket win

Follow all the live scores and updates of the 1st ODI between Bangladesh and West Indies in Dhaka.