A senior Red Cross official warned that “serious problems” remain with a remote island off southern Bangladesh housing Rohingya refugees, as officials prepared to ship thousands more people there this week.
Red Cross warns of ‘serious problems’ with remote Bangladesh island housing Rohingya refugees
Since last December, Bangladesh has moved about 19,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a persecuted mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar, to the island of Bhasan Char from mainland border camps.
Rights groups have likened it to an island jail and said some relocations were involuntary.
Alexander Matheou, Asia-Pacific director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said restrictions on free movement and a shortage of job opportunities and health care would “deter people from choosing to go in large numbers” to the island, several hours’ from the mainland.
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Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors with historic connectivity going back centuries. The 271 km long Bangladesh-Myanmar border is very important for Bangladesh due to its strategic position, although at present the area is militarized due to its ongoing internal conflicts.
Matheou, who visited on Tuesday, told Reuters by phone the site was “well-designed and organized in terms of housing” and had access to clean water, but the health services were “too basic to cope with a large population” and there was no established system of referrals to the mainland.
He said the main issue among refugees he spoke to was that they could not move back and forth to the mainland to see their families.
“While that’s difficult, that is really, really upsetting people,” he said. “So those issues could all act as a deterrent for people to voluntarily coming… I think that those will sort of undermine the success of the project unless they’re addressed.”
He said authorities, who plan to move another 81,000 refugees to the island, were exploring allowing people to travel to the mainland for limited periods. Bangladesh officials did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.