Amnesty International has called upon the Bangladesh authorities to drop plans to relocate more than 100 Rohingya families to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
The international rights watchdog reiterated the call as it has obtained a partial list of the Rohingya families identified for relocation to Bhashan Char, where,“more than 300 Rohingya refugees are already living in poor conditions.”
In a statement issued on Friday, Amnesty argued that the island has not yet been declared safe for human habitation by the United Nations. “…many refugees are still reluctant” to go there, it added.
Referring to local media reports, the Amnesty mentioned that the Bangladeshi government has completed preparations to relocate 300-400 Rohingya people to the silt island of Bhashan Char this month.
Based on an interview with the Rohingya people living in camps in Cox’s Bazar this month, Amnesty International alleged that government officials in charge of the camps have coerced them into registering for relocation.
A Rohingya woman on the list was quoted to have told AI that she has registered to go to the island because her husband is there. As a single parent with a young child and without any relatives in the camp, she has been facing many problems, the statement said.
“It’s very difficult to live this refugee life. I don’t have any other option. It seems that the government will never allow my husband to get out of the island,” she was quoted to have said.
“Aside from the fact that Bhashan Char has not been deemed safe for human habitation by the UN, there are serious questions over this relocation procedure. Many of the Rohingya we have spoken to have not given full and informed consent to being moved to an island they know nothing about,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
“Any decisions relating to the relocation of refugees must be transparent and involve the full participation of the Rohingya people. In the meantime, plans for any further relocations must be abandoned,” Waraich said.
He insisted that the Bangladeshi authorities must let the UN carry out an assessment of Bhashan Char and immediately return the hundreds of Rohingya refugees currently on the island to their families in Cox’s Baza.
“Based on the experiences of those that Amnesty International has spoken to, many of the Rohingya who have signed up to relocate to Bhashan Char are doing so out of compulsion rather than choice,” said Omar Waraich.
He also said, “Bangladesh has demonstrated commendable generosity in hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees. Rather than hasty relocations that leave both Bangladesh and the Rohingya in further limbo, this protracted situation requires the local, international and Rohingya community to work together to find a sustainable solution.”
The AI is also calling for unfettered access to Bhashan Char for rights and humanitarian organisations to carry out independent assessments.