Despite strong concerns raised by rights groups, the Bangladesh government dispatched yet another batch of Rohingya refugees to a remote island prone to floods. Six vessels carrying around 1,800 refugees left Chattogram (Chittagong) early on Tuesday, December 29, to the island of Bhasan Char.
This was the second group of refugees sent to Bhasan Char, located in the Meghna river’s estuary, 40 miles away from the mainland. On December 4, the first batch of 1, 600 refugees were relocated to the island which, critics say, emerged from the sea just 20 years ago and is prone to flooding.
United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi had raised concerns about the safety of the refugees and the allegations of their forced relocation after the first group was sent to the island, saying that “any transfer must follow a voluntary, informed decision.”
I am concerned by reports of #Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh being moved to Bhasan Char.
UNHCR and UN partners seek access to them in order to hear their voices, understand their wishes and see conditions on the island.
Any transfer must follow a voluntary, informed decision.
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) December 6, 2020
The Bangladeshi government claims that the shift to the island is voluntary and preparations were made to tackle flooding and other potential disasters before moving the refugees. The government also claims to have built a 12 km embankment to protect the island from flooding during high tide. It says it has built houses for over 100,000 people with all basic amenities.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen dismissed the concerns raised by rights groups and argued that “the island is completely safe,” Reuters reported.
Bangladesh has over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees living in different camps in the country after they were forced to flee from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine province due to state-sponsored persecution and attacks against them. In the name of fighting separatist groups, the Myanmar army attacked Rohingya villages and burnt their houses, forcing millions to flee across the border to Bangladesh and other countries. The UN has accused the Myanmar army of carrying out genocide against Rohingyas.