Burma Task Force demands that the government of Bangladesh must immediately cease its plans to move the Rohingya refugee population to the floating, seasonally submerged island of Bhasan Char. This controversial plan was announced years ago and is now being implemented. Bangladesh plans to send 100,000 Rohingya to this facility.
Human Rights Watch reports that more than a dozen families whose names appeared on the list claim they were not consulted in this decision. Many refugees are wary of moving to the island after hearing of the “prison-like facilities” they would be living in, as well as the government’s reneging on cash gifts for people moving to the island. The first groups scheduled to relocate began their travels on 3 December.
The details surrounding this process have never been divulged to the public, and both the Rohingya refugee community and human rights advocates internationally have opposed the plan and called for transparency. Bhasan Char is considered a tidal island, meaning that much of its land is submerged during high tides or storm surges. Earlier this year, Bhasan Char was flooded by Cyclone Amphan.
On 2 December, the United Nations stated that it had not been consulted or given its approval of the relocation, which echoes what Rohingya community leaders have been saying since 2017. However, the UN did not mention that it would seek any course of action to correct this. Further supranational institutions, such as the European Union, said that it too will not comment or act until the UN is given authority to conduct its own analysis of the situation. Despite the constant flow of complaints and myriad of warnings, Bangladesh continues its plans without the approval of any human rights group or organization.
Burma Task Force has received several images and videos of distraught families at bus depots as refugees are being taken away. “We, Rohingya, will never ever go to Bhashan Char. That is not our land, we want to go back to our own land that is Burma. Bangladesh should not try to send our people to Bhashan Char. This is not a solution, it’s providing more room to the government of Burma to delay repatriation. We don’t want to live inside the golden cage. Our dream goal is to go back to our land, if we don’t have a roof we will manage. Bhasan Char Island Rohingya resettlement project, very much determined to force our Rohingya people to move there, against the will of Rohingya and United Nations,” stated a leader from the Kutupalong camp. He added that a official unbiased survey must be taken of Rohingya families.
“UNHCR and IOM statements still oppose this transfer. We agree with the Bangladeshi government that resolving the root cause is the crux of the matter, but we urge the Bangladeshi government to answer the questions posed by the United Nations and the NGO community instead of offering PR through Bangladeshi media,” stated Adem Carroll, UN Programs Director at Justice For All and lead of the Burma Task Force.
“We urge the US government which is the largest donor for Rohingya refugees to ask Bangladesh to cease forcing Rohingyas to this submerged prison-like island. We urge the incoming Biden administration to urgently intervene. The Rohingya crisis is an international issue and these transfers must be stopped immediately,” stated Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Burma Task Force.
More than 100 families–most of which contain young children–are threatened by this impending move. Should they relocate to Bhasan Char, they will be separated from the mainland by a three-hour boat ride. Independent investigations as well as the “Go-and-See” tour confirm the island lacks the medical infrastructure to not only cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but to help the refugee community that has suffered constant physical and mental trauma for decades. The Rohingya families scheduled to move are suffering yet another wave of anxiety and panic, and once again fear for their lives.
The government of Bangladesh must immediately cease its plans to relocate the Rohingya to Bhasan Char.
Justice For All is an international human rights organization with consultative status at the United Nations. Burma Task Force – a coalition of 38 organizations – is a project of Justice For All.