The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) is facing questions over whether it is helping to detain Rohingya refugees in prison-like conditions by providing services on a controversial island camp.
Over the past year, Bangladesh has relocated almost 20,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, an island formed of silt deposits in the Bay of Bengal thought to be vulnerable to cyclones, which the refugees are unable to leave.
About 700 refugees have reportedly attempted to flee the island but Bangladesh hopes that the UNHCR’s cooperation will ensure better services for the refugees and is now planning to increase the island’s population by 80,000 over the next three months.
Refugees International, a global advocacy organisation, said there were “serious questions” about whether it was safe and possible to move such numbers to the island from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, which are the world’s largest, hosting about 890,000 refugees.
“Most concerning is whether any relocations of Rohingya refugees to the island will be truly voluntary, evidenced by the fact that hundreds of refugees relocated there have already tried to flee,” said Daniel Sullivan, Refugees International’s senior advocate for human rights.
“As Refugees International has warned in the past, failure to properly assess conditions and inform refugees about the move will result in policies more akin to detention than refuge.”
The Geneva-based Global Detention Project tweeted: “In signing a new memorandum of understanding with the Bangladesh government, is the UNHCR assisting in the detention of Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char island? Are refugees free to move on and off the island? Are they moving there truly voluntarily?”
The recent signing of an MOU between the Bangladesh government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), affirming the latter’s willingness to help in the ongoing relocation of Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, is welcome news—albeit a couple of years delayed.
For more than two years, the Bangladesh government, wisely, has been talking about relocating the Rohingyas—at least a segment of them—from the squalid, unhygienic, unsafe, and severely overpopulated camps located in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Kutupalong areas, to the much healthier and habitable island of Bhashan Char. The aim was to ensure a better quality of life for this group of people, who are victims of mass persecution and ethnic cleansing in their own homeland—Myanmar.
It took a while for the Bangladesh government to put the necessary infrastructure in place, which included constructing houses of better quality, putting healthcare facilities in place, ensuring their safety and security, possibilities for generating economic activities, and even education facilities. The process was meant to be temporary, while all efforts at ensuring the Rohingyas’ safe and dignified return to Myanmar would continue.In the last year or so, a few thousands of Rohingyas have already been relocated to Bhashan Char, with a larger number of them waiting to make the move. It is expected that over the next six months, a total of 100,000 Rohingyas would be relocated to Bhashan Char from the camps in Cox’s Bazar. The island can house up to a million people, with space to spare.By and large, the Rohingyas have been happy with the relocation. In fact, they welcomed it. The most graphic and enduring image of this was that of a young happy Rohingya man on board a Bangladeshi naval vessel, strumming on a guitar-like musical instrument while the boat sailed through the Bay of Bengal towards Bhashan Char.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.
One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.
Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.
So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.
“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”Bangladesh is struggling to find a long-term solution for more than one million members of the largely Muslim Rohingya minority group who fled persecution in Myanmar.The first plan — stick them on an island — looks increasingly difficult to pull off. Growing numbers of migrants are fleeing Bhasan Char, risking drowning in the waters of the Bay of Bengal as well as prosecution if they are caught by the authorities. For human rights groups, the exodus stands as testament to the deplorable conditions on the island.“Thousands of Rohingya refugees are confined to the island and not granted permission to leave,” said Zaw Win of Fortify Rights, a human rights organization. “They lack freedom of movement, access to quality health care and livelihoods.”
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday said they do not want a single killing anywhere mentioning that Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah’s killing is regrettable.
“We do not want any such incident anywhere. We have taken action instantly,” he told reporters at his ministry.
Dr Momen referred to the arrest of suspects and mentioned that the Ministry of Home Affairs is looking into it.
Responding to a question, the foreign minister said Mohib Ullah did engage in a “legitimate movement” for the return of Rohingyas to their homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that some people might not like.
Mohib Ullah, 46, chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar on September 29.
The foreign minister said the government will continue to work for the protection of Rohingyas while focusing on their speedy repatriation.
The government has taken tightened measures along the border with Myanmar as there are reports of illegal arms and drugs smuggling, including human trafficking.
“We will not sit idle; we will take stern action,” he added.
Dr Momen also mentioned that many had said the Rohingya issue would be sidelined in the UN General Assembly due to the crisis in Afghanistan but the Rohingya issue came up prominently this time, too.
Earlier, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo has said it is a “shared responsibility” of the international community to make sure that the Rohingya crisis is not a forgotten one as the world faces more crises.
“Making sure that the Rohingya crisis doesn’t become a forgotten crisis is a shared responsibility. Obviously, the government of Bangladesh through its foreign policy is doing a lot to make sure that the crisis is not forgotten,” the UN official told the diplomatic correspondents recently.
A Rohingya day-laborer, who was in the room when gunmen killed prominent refugee community leader Muhib Ullah in southeastern Bangladesh, described in an interview with BenarNews how the intruders forced him and other eyewitnesses to the ground before they interrogated their target and shot him in cold blood.
Muhib Ullah, who was advocating for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to nearby Myanmar, was gunned down at close range after the intruders burst into his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar on the night of Sept. 29.
The 40-year-old eyewitness demanded a “transparent investigation” and “justice” for the death of the community leader who chaired the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, a group advocating for the rights of Rohingya, and who was known on the international stage.
The witness said he entered Ullah’s office while Ullah was talking with about a dozen other men about surging commodity prices, issues related to health services, and other crises affecting the Rohingya refugee community.
“A few minutes later, seven to eight armed men wearing caps and masks entered the room and said, ‘nobody move, stay where you are.’ They pointed a gun at me and told me to lie down on the ground and not to look at them,” the eyewitness recalled.
BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, has chosen not to reveal his identity for safety reasons.
“I heard them ask Muhib Ullah, ‘Why did you form groups in each block? Is it to send people to Myanmar?’”
The witness was referring to a seven-member team that the Rohingya leader had formed in the camps through the advocacy group he chaired, to motivate the refugees to support repatriation.
Almost immediately after the intruders asked the question, the witness said, “one of them fired three bullets at Muhib’s chest and Muhib fell to the ground.”
Ambassador Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, said, “The international community and regional countries must continue their efforts to resolve the Rohingya crisis. Creating conducive environment in the Rakhine State and ensuring accountability for the horrendous crimes committed against them are critical in this regard.”
Ambassador Rabab Fatima said this while delivering her statement at the 3rd committee general debate held at the UN headquarters on Monday (October 4).
In her statement, Ambassador Fatima expressed serious concern at the growing sense of hopelessness in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, which is caused by the delay in repatriation. “While Bangladesh is doing its best to ensure humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas, including by ensuring vaccination of all the eligible Rohingyas, the ultimate solution to this protracted crisis lies in their safe, sustainable, and dignified return in Myanmar,” she stated.
Ambassador Rabab Fatima called upon the international community and the regional countries to continue their efforts in this regard. “We will work with the OIC and the European Union on the annual resolution in this Committee on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar,” she added.In her statement, Ambassador Fatima outlined Bangladesh’s core priorities in the third committee this year. Apart from the resolution on Rohingya crisis, the key priorities of Bangladesh include, ensuring vaccine equity, promoting women empowerment and addressing violence against women, ensuring rights of the children including their right to education, protecting the rights and well-beings of migrant workers, and promotion and protection of human rights at the national and global level.Shedding lights on the disproportionate impacts of COVID 19 pandemic on people in vulnerable situation, the Bangladesh Ambassador called for greater solidarity and cooperation to promote an inclusive and resilient recovery. Shedding lights on the disproportionate impacts of COVID 19 pandemic on people in vulnerable situation, the Bangladesh Ambassador called for greater solidarity and cooperation to promote an inclusive and resilient recovery.
In a first, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police has filed a Chargesheet against an illegal Rohingya who had been living in Deoband in UP for three and a half years and had also obtained a fake Aadhaar Card. He has been booked under various sections of IPC. Cognisance of the chargesheet has not been taken as of now.
According to the information accessed, the accused, Ni Ni Hatwe, alias Mohammed Abdullah, had visited Imphal many times. He was arrested in January this year. His Aadhaar card had a Tamil Nadu address whereas he didn’t know the local language and couldn’t answer the questions. This led to his arrest. His real name is Ni Ni Hatwe whereas he was carrying an Aadhaar card in the name of Mohammed Abdullah.
Ni Ni Hatwe has confessed before the Special Cell that he came to India on a tourist Visa and learnt Urdu at Deoband in UP where he had been staying at a mosque. Later he shifted to rented accommodation. At Deoband, he met one Shafiq who helped him in getting a fake Aadhaar Card and arranged for his air ticket for Imphal.
The sources have claimed that the accused had been living in Deoband for three and a half years on the basis of a fake Aadhaar card and local support. The accused told the police that he went to Imphal to buy medicine for his mother.
Now Special Cell is trying to know with whom he was in touch with and how many other Rohingyas have got Aadhaar cards.
The special cell will also file a supplementary chargesheet very soon. Ni Ni Hatwe came to India in 2017 as per sources.
Unidentified assailants on Wednesday shot dead a top Rohingya community leader in a refugee camp in the Bangladesh resort district of Cox’s Bazar, officials said.
Mohib Ullah was talking with other refugee leaders outside his office after attending evening prayers at around 8:00 pm (1400 GMT) when at least four assailants came to the spot and shot him dead, Rafiqul Islam, police spokesman of Cox’s Bazar, told AFP.
“Four to five unidentified assailants shot him from close range. He was declared dead at a MSF hospital in the camp,” he said.
He said police and the Armed Police Battalion, which is tasked with ensuring security for the country’s 34 Rohingya camps, have stepped up security, deploying hundreds more armed officers.
No one has been arrested yet, according to Islam.
“We are conducting raids in the area,” he said, adding Ullah had not alerted police of any threats from any group.
Mohammad Nowkhim, a spokesman of Ullah’s Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARPSH), said Ullah was talking to other Rohingya leaders outside the ARPSH office at Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, when an unidentified assailant shot him at least three time.
“He was in a pool of blood. He was brought dead to the nearby MSF hospital,” Nowkhim said from a hideout, adding that many Rohingya leaders have gone into hiding after Ullah’s killing.
No one has claimed responsibility, but a Rohingya leader told AFP that Ullah was killed by the extremist group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which was behind several attacks on Myanmar security posts in recent years
“It is a work of ARSA,” he said. Ullah, who was 48, emerged as the main civilian leader of the persecuted Muslim minority community when more than 740,000 Rohingya took refuge in camps in Bangladesh, after a military crackdown by the Myanmar army on their villages in Rakhine province in August 2017.
Brac has taken up an initiative to ensure protection for both Rohingyas and their host communities from workplace exploitation, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
To facilitate this, the development organisation recently held a training for “Shurokkha Bondhus” who will spread awareness among the Rohingya and host communities regarding the aforementioned concerns.
The Bondhus will strive to increase awareness among the targeted population, read a press release.
To achieve optimal success, the Shurokkha Bondhus were recently trained for two days organised by the Safeguarding Unit of the Humanitarian Crisis Management Programme (HCMP) of Brac.
On Tuesday, the training concluded at a Cox’s Bazar hotel and the training theme on the concluding day was Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA).
Hasina Akhter Huq, area director of HCMP, Brac, was present at the event. She said protection issues are not only about women anymore. Everyone, irrespective of gender, deserves a safe work atmosphere.
She added that Brac has a strict “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual harassment.
Some 45 officials of Brac attended the event on Tuesday. SK Jenefa K Jabbar, director, Human Rights and Legal Aid Services, Social Compliance and Safeguarding unit, Brac, facilitated the event.
Earlier on the first day of the two-day event, some 34 employees of Brac’s HCMP took part. Farjana Siddiqua, manager, Training and Safeguarding Unit, of the Human Resources Division of HCMP, moderated the first day’s event.
Tahmina Yesmin, team lead of the Safeguarding Unit of the HR Division of Brac Head Office, acted as the facilitator on the first day, while Tilon Andrews, manager of the Safeguarding Unit of Brac Head Office, trained the Shurokkha Bondhus.Brac has taken up an initiative to ensure protection for both Rohingyas and their host communities from workplace exploitation, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
On August 1, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, dressed in civilian clothes, made a televised speech six months to the day after leading a coup that thrust the country back under brutal Myanmar’s military rule. Amid claims of establishing a multiparty democracy, the junta leader announced that his manufactured state of emergency, which has given rise to massive human rights abuses, would be extended until August 2023.
Later that day, Min Aung Hlaing appointed himself prime minister of the State Administration Council (SAC) junta’s “caretaker government.”
“We have to try to bring them back to a stable condition,” he said of the junta’s use of force against the millions of peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets since February 1. “We must apply our collective strengths.”
The past eight months have offered a stark demonstration of the military’s application of its “collective strengths.”
Since the coup, security forces have carried out a bloody crackdown on nationwide protests with the same callous disregard for life that has driven their scorched-earth strategy in ethnic regions for decades. Police and soldiers have killed over 1,000 people, including about 75 children, arrested more than 6,000 protesters, journalists, and others, and tortured and raped detainees.
Human Rights Watch determined that the military’s post-coup abuses—vast, methodical, and systematic—amount to crimes against humanity. The broad-based and consistent nature of the crackdown reflects not the individual actions of security officers, but a countrywide policy of the junta.
Crimes against humanity committed since February 1 include murder, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and other sexual violence, severe deprivation of liberty, and other inhumane acts causing great suffering. Across the country, security forces have repeatedly used lethal force, including live ammunition, mortar shells, and grenades, while using so-called less-lethal weapons indiscriminately and excessively. Video footage has captured soldiers shooting down children on motorbikes, brutally beating medical aid workers, and firing shotguns into crowds of peacefully protesting doctors.