Relief commissioner denies ‘forced relocation’ of refugees to Bhasan Char.
ISTANBUL, Turkey / DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – A global human rights watchdog on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt the relocation of Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char until “freedom of movement, informed consent and other rights of Rohingya refugees are protected.”
In a statement, it said the relocation contravenes the October agreement between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bangladesh government that established a framework for UN support for refugee operations on Bhasan Char.
“Bangladesh’s October agreement with the UN doesn’t provide a free ticket to forcibly relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at the HRW.
According to the New York-based non-profit, Bangladesh authorities have already moved nearly 20,000 Rohingya refugees to the remote, flood-prone island, claiming that the relocations were necessary to ease the overcrowding in the Cox’s Bazar camps.
“Many refugees were transferred to the island without full, informed consent, and have been prevented from returning to the mainland,” it alleged.
Over a million Rohingya are currently living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, most of whom fled Myanmar since August 2017 to escape the military’s “crimes against humanity and possible genocide.”
The HRW said that the agreement between Bangladesh and UNHCR permits the UN to have a presence on Bhasan Char “(but) serious concerns remain regarding the island’s safety, as well as the processes through which fundamental principles such as informed consent and freedom of movement will be upheld.”
The statement said refugees on Bhasan Char have faced “severe movement restrictions, food shortages, abuses by security forces, and inadequate education, health care, and livelihood opportunities.”
Hundreds have attempted to escape, some even drowning in the process, while those caught have been detained and beaten, it added.
Testimonies of Rohingya refugees cited by the HRW said camp officials and government security agencies are “coercing Rohingya community leaders to persuade other refugees to relocate, including by confiscating their identity documents.”
On Nov. 1, the HRW also wrote a letter to donors, urging them to force the Bangladesh government “to end existing movement restrictions and ensure full freedom of movement.”
– Bangladesh denies ‘forced relocation’
The HRW assertions were refuted by a senior Bangladeshi official concerned, who said “no Rohingya had been compelled to relocate to the island.”
“We have never compelled any Rohingya to migrate to Bhasan Char,” Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Shamsud Dauza told Anadolu Agency.
“The allegations are baseless. No official has intimidated any Rohingya to relocate to Bhasan Char,” he said, adding that only those who are willing to move are registered to do so.
“Our main goal is to ensure the safe and dignified return of Rohingya to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and we are doing everything we can to keep them safe here temporarily.”