Bangladesh plans to relocate over 100,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char island. NGOs have expressed their concerns at the proposal given the lack of infrastructure on the island and potential environmental dangers.

Bangladesh plans to relocate around 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited island by April this year -  Bhasan Char island.

The island is located in the southeast of Bangladesh and is part of a chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal.

The Bangladeshi minister for Disaster and Relief Management Enamur Rahman was quoted by local media as saying: “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week instructed completion of the relocation of 23,000 Rohingya families to Bhashan Char by April 15.”

NGOs and human rights organisations voiced out their concerns about the relocation and the situation on the island.

Source: UNOCHA
Source: UNOCHA (Reuters)

Bhashan Char island could disappear

Bhasan Char is a tiny island 30km away from the mainland and only emerged from the water in the last two decades.

The area was declared a forest reserve in 2013 and the relocation seen as particularly controversial as it takes more than two hours to reach by boat from the mainland as well as facing severe flooding and cyclones during monsoons.

"The plan to relocate refugees to Bhashan Char is both dangerous and a violation of refugees' fundamental rights," says Evan Jones Coordinator at the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Refugees Rights Network (APRRN).

He tells TRT World that "not only does it place refugees on a flood prone island, it also seriously calls into question the Bangladesh government's commitment to providing refugees dignity and access to fundamental services."

Observers believe that the island does not have enough space for 100,000 people. The most critical fact is that the island could disappear due to heavy rain and water flows.

Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh as of August 15, 2018
Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh as of August 15, 2018 (UNHCR)

Concerns by experts and human rights activists

International groups and rights bodies including the UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, have repeatedly warned the move could be risky and urged Bangladesh to go through the project with Rohingya refugees on a voluntary basis and with due clarification.

To address these concerns, the minister Rahman planned a meeting at the prime minister’s office scheduled for Wednesday, March 6.

However, migration expert Jones draws attention to the issue: "Forcibly moving refugees to an island is in contravention of a refugees right to freedom of movement." 

In addition, the Coordinator of the APRRN warns that "moving a population that has already been forcibly displaced from their homeland will only further compound the multitude of challenges faced by Rohingya refugees."

Tracts of Rohingya villages in Myanmar that have been partially or completely burned
Tracts of Rohingya villages in Myanmar that have been partially or completely burned (The Arakan Project)

Concerns by Rohingya refugees

One of the main concerns mentioned by Rohingya refugees against relocation is the fear that the island could be washed away.

A Rohingya refugee named Abdus Salam who lives in the Lambasia camp in Cox’s Bazar spoke to local media sharing his concerns: “Rohingyas have been here for a long time, and they do not want to change their place of residence again. There is so much water, we will drown eventually. It is better to die here, than to move to Bhasan Char.”

Another female refugee, Shekufa Begum, explained why she would prefer to stay at the Lambasia camp. “The camp in Cox’s Bazar is very close to my homeland Myanmar, and I can return there if the situation improves.”

Evan Jones suggest that "The Rohingya population have been persucuted for decades. Instead of further traumatising an already marginalised population, the Bangladesh government should abide by core international standards and norms."

"Refugees should be allowed to work, choose their place of residence, and contribute to the host community."

On August 25 of last year, the Myanmar army launched a crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, forcing over one million to cross the border and take shelter in the neighboring Bangladesh.

Source: TRT World