A ship with about 1,400 refugees is expected to arrive on Bhasan Char, an island about 40km (24 miles) offshore near the city of Chittagong – in the next few days, according to Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s foreign minister.
The Bangladeshi government has spent years building a network of shelters on the island to accommodate up to 100,000 people who currently live in sprawling refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar, near the border with Myanmar.
But human rights groups and refugees themselves have long been expressed concern about the safety of the uninhabited low-lying island, as it often becomes partially submerged during the monsoon season and is vulnerable to cyclones.
Human Rights Watch described the island̵
“Without proper assessments and adequate information for refugees about the island’s conditions, this move is nothing more than a dangerous mass detention of Rohingya in violation of international human rights obligations,” said Daniel Sullivan, the group’s senior human rights activist. .
“Limited” UN involvement
The government has been building Bhasan Char facilities for several years to ease pressure on overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar, home to about 1 million Rohingya refugees.
Many refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape the violent military crackdown in 2017, prompting the International Court of Justice in The Hague to order Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population from acts of genocide. Myanmar denies the genocide allegations and maintains that the military’s “cleansing operations” were legal measures to combat terrorism.
“Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision to move to Bhasan Char on the basis of appropriate, accurate and up-to-date information,” the statement said.
“Any move to Bhasan Char must be preceded by comprehensive assessments of technical protection. These independent United Nations assessments will review the safety, feasibility and sustainability of Bhasan Char as a refugee residence, as well as the framework for protection and assistance services to which the island will have access. “
On Thursday, 933 Rohingya refugees left the Cox’s Bazar camps for Chittagong and more than 400 are expected to travel on Friday, Alam said. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.
The two groups are then expected to travel 2.5 hours aboard a naval ship to Bhasan Char.
The island can accommodate up to 100,000 people in 120 shelters, according to Bangladesh Navy Commander Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, director of the Bhasan Char Island Project.
Each shelter can accommodate 800 to 1,000 people and each family will have a 12-by-14-foot (3.6-by-4.3-meter) unit with bunk beds, he said.
The shelters are built 14 feet above ground level “in the event of cyclones” and can withstand winds of up to 260 kilometers per hour (161 miles per hour), Chowdhury added. There are also two hospitals with 20 beds, as well as municipal clinics and medical staff on site, as well as three schools.
“We are ready in all aspects,” Chowdery said. “We take care of food, medical, safety.”
Fears of forced removal
Bangladesh has said the relocation process will be voluntary, but several rights groups have expressed concerns that refugees could be coerced.
Human Rights Watch said about a dozen families said their names were on the list of people identified as wanting to go, but that they did not volunteer to move. Some refugees on the list have reportedly fled for fear of forced relocation.
“The government of Bangladesh is actively abandoning its promise to the UN not to relocate refugees to Bhasan Char Island until humanitarian experts give the green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia’s director at Human Rights Watch. “If the government was really confident in the island’s habitability, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments.”
Bangladesh’s foreign minister did not immediately answer CNN’s questions about forcing refugees to relocate.
Fortify Rights reported that some Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar camps have been told by unelected Rohingya camp leaders that they could be the first in line to repatriate to Myanmar if they go to Bhasan Char.
Chowdery said the government had decided to return some of these people to Cox’s Bazaar because “families have been broken.” He said many of the island’s refugees are women who want to reunite with their relatives.