Bangladesh defended a controversial plan Friday to relocate Rohingya refugees to a remote island as a move to protect the persecuted people from risks, the nation’s top diplomat told Anadolu Agency.
Despite an outcry by the international community on safety and rights grounds, Bangladesh transferred Friday the first batch of 1,642 Rohingya to Bhashan Char, a distant island in the Bay of Bengal.
Another 3,500 will be sent to the island this week and the relocation is expected to be completed within a week, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency reported, citing naval sources.
The South Asian country hosting more than 1 million Rohingya have developed concrete settlements on the island to house 100,000 Rohingya in the first phase, investing more than $350 million generated from its internal sources.
In a message to Anadolu Agency late Friday Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen thanked premier Sheikh Hasina for her “decisive action” to transfer a portion of Rohingya living in the squalid makeshift tents in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char.
Momen claimed Hasina decided on the plan “to avoid deaths and accidents due to landslides and other untoward incidents in the overcrowded hilly areas of Kutupalang,” in the world’s largest refugee camp.
"They beat my son mercilessly and even smashed his teeth so that he agreed to go to the #BhasanChar island," Sufia Khatun, a 60-year-old #Rohingya refugee told the @AFP news agency in Cox's Bazar.https://t.co/2kFv2PuPk3
— Arafatul Islam (@arafatul) December 4, 2020
Underlining that concrete structures on the island will “provide better living for the time being,” Momen pointed out that “drug trafficking” and “flesh-trade trading” has deteriorated law and order in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
International rights defenders, including the UN, slammed Bangladesh for starting with relocation without conducting any professional feasibility studies on the island by international experts before the transfer.
They warned the silty island emerged only 20 years ago in the Bay of Bengal and it is flood-prone and inhabitants there have a high risk of being washed out during cyclone or stormy weather.
Read more: Rohingya in Bangladesh plead for cemeteries
According to officials and locals, the distant island that is 50 kilometers (31 miles) off Bangladesh’s southwestern coast, remains disconnected from the mainland during natural disasters.
Opposing the concerns of international communities, a Foreign Ministry statement said Friday that “the accommodation in Bhashan Char is strongly-built with concrete foundation which can withstand natural disasters such as cyclones and tidal waves.”
Referring to the Cyclone Amphan that hit Bangladesh and India in May, it said: “Despite the heightened tidal wave, all the 1,440 houses and 120 shelter stations in the island remained unharmed.”
Bangladesh refused to halt relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char and wait for independent technical assessment. Despite promise of consultation and informed consent, some refugees told @hrw they were coerced into leaving https://t.co/IAlGTNilvq
— meenakshi ganguly (@mg2411) December 4, 2020
Assuring uninterrupted services to the stateless people on the island, it added that “in addition to Government agencies, around 22 NGOs are already there to extend all possible support to the relocated Rohingya.”
Commander Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, director of the Bhasan Char Rohingya Camp Rehabilitation Project, told Anadolu Agency that “we have received them [Rohingya] and as per government directions we are resettling them. We are fully ready to provide full support to 100,000 Rohingya here.”
Appeal for actions against Myanmar
Momen criticized the international community for failing to take any punitive measures for the atrocities against Rohingya in Myanmar.
“During the last 3 years, trade and investment from European, ASEAN, China, Japan, UK, etc. have increased manifold in Myanmar in spite of violation of human rights,” he said in a message to Anadolu Agency.
“None of the Human Rights organizations have started any blockade of those countries that are heavily investing in Myanmar nor asking for divestment as they did in the case of Apartheid in South Africa,” he added.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, entitled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.
As many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and more than 115,000 Rohingya homes burned down, while 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk