State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, Dr Md Enamur Rahman, today said that another 80,000 “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” will be relocated to Bhasan Char in next three months.
“With the help of some local and international NGOs, humanitarian assistance is being provided to their relocation to Bhasan Char,” he said.
The state minister was speaking at a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing ceremony between the country’s disaster management and relief ministry and the UNHCR at the Secretariat as the chief guest.
The MoU was signed to establish a common protection and policy framework for humanitarian response to Rohingya in Bhasan Char, said an UNHCR press release.
The recent assassination of Mohib Ullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, has increased apprehension within the Rohingya refugee camps where tension was already high. The Rohingya have been living in fear due to a combination of unrestrained crimes, rivalry between different groups operating in the camps as well as lax security. Mohib Ullah’s murder has only worsened the situation, with many refugees believing the state of security in camps has gone from bad to worse in recent times.According to a report published by this newspaper on Thursday, armed gangs belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have created a deep sense of fear in the camps
The MoU is a further expression of the government and people of Bangladesh’s generosity and support toward the Rohingya population until they can return safely and sustainably to Myanmar, it added.
Enamur said that as per recommendations of the Technical and Protection Sub-Committee formed in 2018, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief constructed a total of 1,440 houses and 120 cyclone shelters in Bhasan Char for the accommodation of one lakh forcibly displaced Myanmar citizen under the Ashrayan-3 project.
From December 3, 2020 to April 4, 2021, some 18,846 “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” from 4,724 families were relocated to Bhasan Char, he added.
A joint team of Armed Police Battalion (APBn), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Bhasan Char Police arrested them after conducting a two-day drive in different areas of Bhasan Char, confirmed Noakhali Superintendent of Police Shahidul Islam.
The arrestees are –Jobaier, 22, son of Alam, Redwan, 20, Son of Nurul Islam, Salam, 31, son of Jakir Hossain, Abdur Rahman, 19, son of Nur Mohammed, Syed Karim, 18, son of Rafique Alam, Saiful Islam, 20, son of Sohrawb Hossain, Shafi Ullah, 22, son of Nur Mohammad, Nazimullah, 37, son of Abu Bakar and Saleh, 40, son of Hanif of Bhasan Char refugee camp.
Officer-in-Charge of Bhasan Char Police Station Rafiqul Islam said a case has been filed against the detained Rohingya brokers.
Hundreds of children on Wednesday defied a ban on protests at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to mark the fourth anniversary of a Myanmar military crackdown which sparked an exodus across the border, community leaders said.
Thousands of armed police and troops patrolled the camps in the Cox’s Bazar district but did not act against the children.
More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya, who have long been persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, fled into Bangladesh after the 2017 clampdown which is the subject of a genocide investigation by the International Criminal Court.
They were sent to court on Thursday morning.
Since the Rohingya’s relocation at Bhasan Char, a gang of local and Rohingya brokers have been helping the Rohingyas to flee in exchange for money.
Recently, 11 Rohingyas were killed and at least 16 are still missing as a trawler carrying Rohingyas sank in the Bay of Bengal while fleeing from the Bhasan CharWhile most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderation decisions are subjective. Published comments are readers’ own views and The Business Standard does not endorse any of the readers’ comments.
The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhasan Char island, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees to be relocated, beginning with transfers to the port city of Chattogram on December 3, 2020.
The Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees and freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the United Nations’ call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.
“The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments.”
In a statement on December 2, the United Nations said that it had not been involved in preparation for this transfer to Bhasan Char and that “any relocations to Bhasan Char should be preceded by comprehensive technical protection assessments,” reiterating that the UN stood ready to proceed with such assessments “if permitted by the Government.” European Union Ambassador Rensje Teerink said that the EU would not comment on relocation to Bhasan Char until the UN had been allowed to complete technical and humanitarian missions to the island. The UN also said that the government should respect commitments to ensure any relocation is voluntary.
Though the government claims that any relocation will be voluntary, Human Rights Watch recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the list, but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate. Some refugees on the list have fled out of fear of forced relocation.
Refugees and humanitarian workers said on Thursday some of the thousands of Rohingya being shipped to a remote island had been coerced, despite government assertions that none would be forced to go.
Two Rohingya told Reuters their names appeared on lists compiled by government-appointed local leaders without their consent, while aid workers said officials used threats and enticements to pressure people into going.
Some refugees named as willing to go to the island were in hiding on Thursday, amid a heavy security presence at the sprawling camps.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said the relocation was voluntary.
“They are going there happily. No one is forced. The government has taken all measures to deal with disasters, including their comfortable living and livelihood.”
Police escorted the first group of 1,000 refugees in buses from Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar for the journey to Chittagong port and then on to Bhasan Char – a flood-prone Bay of Bengal island that emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
“They have taken us here forcefully,” a 31-year-old man told Reuters tearfully by phone as he boarded a bus.
“Three days ago, when I heard that my family is on the list, I ran away from the block, but yesterday I was caught and taken here,” he said.
An 18-year-old woman said her husband had put their names on the list thinking it was for food rations. He fled when they were told to go to Bhasan Char, she said, adding that she is also hiding in the camp.
She was among more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military-led crackdown that the United Nations said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies genocide and says its forces were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
More than 1,200 Rohingyas from 500 families living in camps in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar will be shifted to Bhasan Char in the first week of December.
The decision was taken in an internal meeting at the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner’s (RRRC) Office in Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday.
According to multiple sources at RRRC, the office has finalized the process of relocating about 500 Rohingya families to Bhasan Char in the first phase. The number of members of these 500 families is more than 1,200.
Although the date has been changed from December 3 due to weather conditions, Rohingyas will be taken to Bhasan Char in the first week of December. Moreover, 23 local NGOs will also accompany them.
Additional RRRC Md Shamsu Douza said their office is always ready to send Rohingyas to Bhasan Char. However, he was unable to provide any information on when, how, and how many Rohingyas will be shifted to Bhasan Char.
“The RRRC office is working to send Rohingyas to Bhasan Char on the instructions of the government,” Md Shamsu added.
A source in the RRRC office said: “A group of Rohingya leaders has already visited Bhasan Char. Although some of the Rohingya leaders disagreed, most of the Rohingya leaders and ordinary Rohingyas were ready to go to Bhasan Char.”
Meanwhile, a new list demanding food and non-food items for relocating Rohingyas to Bhasan Char has been added to the official website of RRRC on Tuesday.
Various NGOs have also asked the government to submit projects (food and non-food) to conduct possible assistance activities after the relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char.
On November 16, a 32-member delegation of officials from 22 NGOs visited Bhasan Char and said that a very conducive environment has been created for the Rohingyas to live there.
There are adequate measures to deal with disasters, including their comfortable living and livelihood. Bhasan Char will be much better than the way the Rohingyas are living in Cox’s Bazar at present, said the delegates.
Bangladesh has yet to decide on the relocation of more than 300 Rohingya refugees, including children, from Bhasan Char Island to the camps in Cox’s Bazar district, more than two months after they were quarantined there amid the nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
“As of today, there is no decision of relocation the Rohingya to the mainland refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingya are (being) taken care of by the Bangladesh Navy, and everything is going well over there,” Shah Rejoan Hayat, joint secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MDMR), said.
The Rohingya were rescued by the Bangladesh Navy on May 2 and sent to Bhasan Char after being stranded at sea for weeks following Malaysia’s decision to deny them entry due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Bangladesh to move the Rohingya from the “flood-prone island” in the Bay of Bengal, accusing officials of using the pandemic to “detain refugees” on Bhasan Char, which it says is extremely vulnerable to monsoon storms.
“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” HRW said in a statement released on Thursday.
It added that the Bangladeshi government was “inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing for relocation them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”
According to HRW, the quarantined refugees “do not have access to food, clean drinking water or medical care,” while others have allegedly been “beaten up and mistreated by the authorities,” the statement said.
However, Bangladeshi authorities have rejected HRW’s claims, reasoning that the 308 refugees were sent to the island because authorities were afraid they might have contracted COVID-19.
“These Rohingya were denied access by Malaysia, Thailand and driven out from Myanmar. Bangladesh was kind enough to accept them on humanitarian grounds. So Bangladesh doesn’t deserve any criticism in this regard, it might be applicable for some other countries,” Mohammad Shamsuddoza, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News.
Hayat said HRW’s concerns were unfounded because Bhasan Char, an artificial island completed in 2006, had been constructed to be protective.
“The Bangladesh Navy has a forward base over there and enough protective measures to ensure the safety of inhabitants on the island,” Hayat, who is also the chief of the MDMR’s refugee wing, said.
Bangladesh authorities should immediately move over 300 Rohingya refugees, including at least 33 children, from the silt island of Bhasan Char to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to be with their families, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite pledges, the Bangladesh government has yet to allow United Nations officials to provide protection services and aid to the refugees detained on Bhasan Char, who had been stranded at sea for several weeks.
The authorities said that the rescued refugees needed to be temporarily quarantined on Bhasan Char to protect against the spread of Covid-19 in the crowded camps. However, more than two months later, the refugees remain on the island, at risk of flooding and storms during the current monsoon season, despite calls from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and humanitarian experts to safely return them to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government is inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”
Also Read This: No end in sight to the suffering of the Rohingya
Families in Cox’s Bazar told Human Rights Watch that relatives on Bhasan Char are being held without freedom of movement or adequate access to food or medical care, and face severe shortages of safe drinking water. Some refugees have alleged that they were beaten and ill-treated by Bangladesh authorities on the island.
Some families in Cox’s Bazar said that camp leaders told them that if they wanted to see their family members, they must join them on the island. One refugee in Cox’s Bazar told Human Rights Watch that a leader from his camp came and collected his personal information, saying that they needed it because his son is on Bhasan Char. “One of them visited my shelter and said I might need to go over there to join my son,” he said.
But he has serious concerns about going to Bhasan Char, even to see his son. “When I was last able to talk to my son, he complained about everything over there,” he said. “If we are forced to relocate there then there will be no option other than to flee from my shelter. My son even told me not to agree to their proposal at any cost.”
The nightmare of what we and the world have feared for months had finally arrived at our doorsteps — and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The very next day, humanitarian groups used loudspeakers to warn us about Cyclone Amphan, a super-cyclone that was the strongest storm on record in the Bay of Bengal. The groups raised two red flags together in camps, one to signal the detection of the coronavirus in refugee camps and the other to signal the cyclone.
Wednesday night marked the Night of Decree for Muslims, the night when the Koran was first sent down from heaven to the world. Rohingya refugees in camps were waiting for the night to seek safeguards from Allah. While thousands were preparing for prayers, heavy rain and wind started to strike.
The refugees held their breath in fear and despair. The worst fear was for the lives of more than 300 who had been recently relocated to the Bhasan Char island by the Bangladesh government. We still don’t know what happened that night on the floating island. refugee settlement
On Thursday morning, we woke to a number of devastations: landslide, dozens of destroyed shelters, and the flooding. Fortunately, no casualties were reported. Still, the dark and heavy clouds are gathering above us; the sounds of thunder are roaring across the sky.
Prospects for the return of nearly one million Rohingya refugees to Myanmar look bleak. But with monsoon rains approaching, time is running out for the vast makeshift settlements inside Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar.
With no viable long-term solution in sight for the refugees, does the offer of being relocated to an uninhabited remote island, Bhasan Char, in the Bay of Bengal represent their only hope of building a secure future?
The relocation plan proposed by the Bangladesh government has drawn considerable criticism. Dhaka has reportedly spent $280 million developing Bhasan Char as a resettlement center for 100,000 refugees. The island was created less than 20 years ago from accumulated sediment and is subject to flood risks and limited access during monsoon season.
International aid organizations face a dilemma in considering the controversial plan, which they and the Rohingya community have largely opposed. But, as an experienced aid worker, I believe it may yet prove to be the only pragmatic solution to the refugee problem as hopes for a successful and safe repatriation to Myanmar fade.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller has welcomed assurances that relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char island will be completely voluntary.
He received assurance from government officials during his three-day visit to Cox’s Bazar (March 8-10). He visited both local communities and Rohingya camps, and met with officials of the government, UN and NGOs operating in the area.
Ambassador Miller also met with local government officials — including the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner and Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner — to learn more about the government plan of relocating up to 1,00,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, starting as early as mid-April.
He was assured that any movement to the island will be fully voluntary, based on informed consent, and those who choose to go will have free movement to and from the island to maintain connections with the rest of the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar, according to a press release from the US Embassy yesterday.
Bhasan Char is part of a chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The UN, international organisations, NGOS and rights bodies including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, voiced their concerns about the relocation and the situation on the island, and have warned that the move could be risky. They have insisted that any relocation should be voluntary.
During his visit, the US Ambassador met with the American Red Cross, IFRC, IOM, UNDP, UNHCR, WFP, and others to discuss their outstanding efforts, working with the local community to prepare for the annual cyclone and monsoon season, and how the United States can further assist these efforts.