Bangladesh begins to move Rohingya families to remote island | Global development

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Bangladesh has started moving Rohingya families from camps near the Myanmar border to an encampment on a remote island, despite concerns about its safety and the refugees’ lack of consent.

Families could be seen loading white bags of personal effects onto buses that arrived Wednesday night to take them to the port city of Chittagong for a boat transfer to Bhasan Char. Around 1,000 people had already been displaced, regional police chief Anwar Hossain told AFP.

Bangladesh has said it plans to relocate 2,500 families, but rights groups said the refugees had been listed without their consent. They called on Bangladesh to end the resettlement to allow an independent inspection of the island.

Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International activist for South Asia, said: “It is essential that the Bangladeshi authorities allow the UN, rights groups and humanitarian agencies to carry out independent livability assessments. of Bhashan Char before taking steps to transfer people there. No resettlement plan, whether in Bhashan Char or anywhere else, can be undertaken without the full and informed consent of those affected.

Refugees in Kutupalong say people are worried, have been staying close to home since the relocation began and all transport inside the camps has been banned by authorities.

As of April, around 300 Rohingya have been living in Bhasan Char, sent there after being recovered at sea. Allegations of sexual assault have been made against guards and videos of women shouting for permission to return to the mainland afterwards. that Bangladesh took a delegation of camp leaders, known as majhis, to the island in September.

Formed from a build-up of silt in the Bay of Bengal only 20 years ago, Bhasan Char’s exposure to extreme weather conditions and distance from the mainland in an emergency has raised concerns since Bangladesh first raised the idea in 2015.

The Rohingya themselves had firmly resisted their displacement, but since an additional 700,000 refugees arrived three years ago, fleeing ethnic cleanses in Myanmar, many have grown weary of conditions in the overcrowded settlements.

Mohammad Hanif, 40, a majhi from Kutupalong camp, the world’s largest refugee camp, said, “We went to the island and I am quite happy with the arrangements. They have better housing, mosques and madrasas, markets. And the government has promised that help and support from the UN and other agencies will not be lacking. “

Hanif said his wife and children were afraid to move but were convinced after telling them about the facilities available.

He said they were told that the same NGOs operating in camps on the mainland would also help Bhasan Char. However, the UN has yet to agree to work on the island, and in a statement on Wednesday, UNHCR said it had not been involved in the relocations and called on Bangladesh to allow an urgent assessment. from the island.

Bangladesh has insisted that the new housing in Bhasan Char is superior to the bamboo shelters in Cox’s Bazar and that it has built flood defenses.

Buildings intended to accommodate members of the Rohingya refugee community on Bhasan Char.
Buildings intended to accommodate members of the Rohingya refugee community on Bhasan Char. Photographie: Mukta Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects / AFP via Getty Images

“We were told that there would also be members of the Bangladeshi authorities on the island. So whatever hardships we will face on the island, the Bangladeshis will also face them… so I think the island must have facilities to survive in bad weather conditions, ”Hanif said. “The authorities have told us that the Bangladeshi government has done so much for us and they have given us shelter and food, they expect us to follow their plan. Because it is for our good. “

Human Rights Watch and the Bangkok-based advocacy group Fortify Rights said they had spoken to refugees who had been in hiding since being told their names were on resettlement lists. They also warned of majhis making false promises and threats to force consent.

Mohammad Anis, 33, said he decided not to go because he did not want to stay in Bangladesh long term. “I don’t want to go to the island. And no one I know from my neighborhood wants to go either, ”said Anis, a majhi from Kutupalong. “We don’t think they can force so many people to relocate against their will under the surveillance of the international community. Our request is only rational and that is to bring us back to Myanmar, we do not want to be refugees all our life.

There are over a million Rohingya refugees living in the Cox’s Bazar area, arriving after repeated outbreaks of violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar since the early 1990s.

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