Dhaka, MINA – Human rights agency Fortify Rights has urged Bangladesh not to force Rohingya Muslim refugees to move to a remote island south of the Bay of Bengal.
“The Bangladeshi government must prevent the forced and involuntary transfer of Rohingya refugees from mainland camps to the isolated and flood-prone island of Bhasan Char,” the agency said in a statement as quoted from Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
Bangladeshi authorities on Sunday relocated 1,287 more Rohingya from mainland camps to the island, bringing the total number of stateless people in the settlements to nearly 21,000, according to official records.
“Testimony and videos obtained by Fortify Rights reveal a pattern of forced and involuntary transfers, including unnecessary separation of families,” the rights agency said.
The statement added that the transfer of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char violates the agreement signed on October 9, 2021 by Bangladesh and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“Refugees have rights, and the government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Refugee Agency have a responsibility to ensure those rights and prevent the violent and forced transfer to Bhasan Char,” said Ismail Wolff, regional director for Fortify Rights.
“It is cruel and inhumane to separate the families of these genocide survivors,” he added.
Meanwhile, Miah Md. Mainul Kabir, Director General in charge of Myanmar issues at the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the entire relocation process was carried out voluntarily.
“Rohingyas who were willing to move to better settlements on the island have been relocated without coercion,” he said.
Regarding the Fortify Rights statement, he said the report was “baseless” and that no relevant Bangladesh office had been contacted prior to preparing such a report.
“Even in the newest batch, an additional 90 Rohingya have been allowed to visit the island, and they will return to the mainland camps if they feel safer,” he added.
Kabir said that two Rohingya groups previously transferred to Bhasan Char recently visited their relatives in mainland camps and returned to Bhasan Char on their own.
“We have developed a better living environment for the Rohingya who spent our own money until their peaceful and dignified return to their home country,” he added.
Nearly 1.2 million Rohingya currently live in 34 overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar. Most of them fled the brutal military crackdown in their home country, Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.
Bangladesh has built 1,400 large cluster houses four times above ground with concrete blocks and 120 terraced cyclone shelters on the island. Each cluster house consists of 16 rooms.
Bangladesh has spent more than USD350 million of its domestic resources developing a resettlement project on 13,000 hectares (5,261 hectares) to temporarily resettle 100,000 Rohingya Muslims.
According to official sources, the destination island is located 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the southwest coast of Bangladesh and nearly 193 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital Dhaka. (T/RE1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)