The Bangladesh government has failed to honor its pledge not to involuntarily hold Rohingya refugees on the remote, unprotected island of Bhasan Char, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 5, 2020, the government arranged a three-day “go and see visit” to Bhasan Char for 40 Rohingya refugees, including camp leaders, during which those on the island begged to be allowed to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar camps.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 Rohingya refugees from the visiting delegation after they returned to Cox’s Bazar from Bhasan Char on September 8. Some said they wanted the refugees detained on the island to be allowed to return with them. Others expressed serious concerns over the quality of medical facilities on the island, the lack of livelihood opportunities, and the safety of the island during monsoon season.
“The Bangladesh government is detaining refugees on a remote island, separated from their families, in a callous attempt to claim that that it is safe and habitable,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Only by allowing UN experts to conduct a long-promised independent assessment would it be possible to determine the feasibility, safety, and sustainability of the arrangements at Bhasan Char.”
The visit was arranged without consultation with United Nations agencies or nongovernmental organizations. The government has yet to allow UN refugee agency officials to conduct a protection visit for the 306 refugees detained on Bhasan Char, including at least 33 children.
The Bangladesh government has repeatedly promised that it would await clearance from UN agencies and independent technical experts on emergency preparedness, habitability, and safety of the island before relocating Rohingya to the island. One camp leader who visited the island said that the refugees were also awaiting an expert assessment: “We want international experts from UN and other international agencies to visit Bhasan Char to tell us if it is safe.” Yet refugees in Cox’s Bazar said they are feeling pressure from local authorities to move to the island if they ever want to see their families again.