Red Cross warns of ‘serious problems’ with remote Bangladeshi island hosting Rohingya refugees

Since December last year, Bangladesh has transferred about 19,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a persecuted, mostly Muslim minority, from Myanmar to Bhasan Char Island from border camps on the mainland.

Rights groups have likened it to an island prison and said some relocations were involuntary.

Alexander Matheou, Asia-Pacific director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said restrictions on free movement and shortages of jobs and health care “would prevent people from flocking to the island”. hours from the mainland.

Matheou, who visited on Tuesday, told Reuters by phone that the site was “well designed and organized in terms of housing” and had access to clean water, but health services were “too simple to handle a large population” and was not a fixed system of references to the mainland.

He said the main problem among the refugees he spoke to was that they couldn’t go back and forth to the mainland to see their families.

“While that’s hard, that’s really, really disturbing for people,” he said. “So those issues can all deter people from coming voluntarily…I think they’re going to kind of undermine the project’s success unless they’re addressed.”

He said authorities, who plan to bring another 81,000 refugees to the island, are investigating whether people can travel to the mainland for limited periods.

Bangladesh officials did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

‘Forced to move’

Refugees have called for freedom of movement between the flood-prone island and the sprawling mainland camps near the port city of Cox’s Bazar. Dozens have been killed in recent months as they tried to flee in rickety boats.

The United Nations agreed to begin work on the island in October in an agreement that does not guarantee free movement, according to a leaked copy of the unpublished deal seen by Reuters.

A Bhasan Char official, who asked not to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters by phone that authorities are preparing to send another group of between 1,500 and 2,000 on Thursday. .

She fled home to escape violence.  Now she's been lost at sea for two months

Mohammed Arman, a refugee living on the island, said people did not want to come there because of the movement restrictions.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday that camp officials and government security forces forced refugees to relocate, including by confiscating their identity documents.

“Bangladesh’s October agreement with the UN does not provide a free ticket to forcibly relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char,” said Bill Frelick, director of refugee and migrant rights at Human Rights Watch.

“On the contrary, donor governments will now closely monitor Bhasan Char to ensure that their aid does not contribute to abuses.”

More than a million Rohingya are living in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar, the vast majority in 2017 following a military crackdown that included mass killings and gang rapes that the UN said was carried out with genocide intent.

Myanmar denies genocide and says it was waging a legitimate campaign against insurgents who attacked police posts.


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