The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Bangladesh to immediately drop its plan to transfer Rohingya refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area to Thengar Char, an uninhabited coastal island, saying the move would deprive them of their rights to freedom of movement, livelihood, food and education, in violation of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, most of them unregistered by the authorities, are in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar dating back to the 1990s. Since October 2016, nearly 69,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar have entered Bangladesh to escape alleged attacks by the national security forces, including unlawful killings, sexual violence and wholesale destruction of villages.
“The Bangladesh government is making the ridiculous claim that relocating Rohingya refugees to an island with absolutely no facilities that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season will improve their living conditions. This proposal is both cruel and unworkable and should be abandoned,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The plan to move long-term refugees to Thengar Char was first suggested in 2015, but was shelved after widespread condemnation, said HRW.
The government revived the plan in early February 2017 following the new influx of Rohingya refugees. Officials contended that the new arrivals pose a law and order and a public health problem, but have produced no evidence to support this claim. I
In addition, the government has issued warnings against new arrivals mixing with the general population and established committees to increase security around the camps to prevent refugees from exiting the camps or “intermingling” with Bangladeshi citizens.
A cabinet order, passed on January 26, 2017, is unclear as to whether all Rohingya in Bangladesh would be transferred or only new arrivals. However, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammad Shahriar Alom has said that, “The Rohingya will live [in Thengar Char] temporarily and our desire is that the Myanmar government will take them back as soon as possible.”
Aid agencies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administers the refugee camps, expressed alarm over the revival of this plan.
Journalists who have visited the island described it as empty and featureless, subject to cyclones and flooding. During monsoon season, the island is submerged; anyone living on the island will have to be evacuated, and any infrastructure would be damaged.
“The Bangladeshi government needs to treat the persecuted Rohingya humanely, but they shouldn’t have to go it alone. Instead of dumping Rohingya on a flooded island, the government should be seeking immediate donor support to improve existing conditions for the refugees,” said Adams said.
Updated On: February 9, 2017