Rushanara Ali MP and Anne Main MP have today called on the Government of Bangladesh to rethink proposals for the relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char Island. The two MP’s jointly chair the cross-party parliamentary group on the rights of the Rohingya.
In August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya were forced to relocate to refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh, after fleeing a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military, which UN investigators declared was conducted with “genocidal intent”. Currently there are over 1 million people based in the over-crowded makeshift camps, who continue to live with extremely limited access to food, healthcare and shelter.
The Bangladesh Government has considered the relocation of some Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char island as a solution to this humanitarian crisis. They hope this will ease overcrowding too. Previously, they had been unable to convince any refugees to go to the island.
The plans have been publicly criticised by a number of humanitarian organisations who have expressed their concern as the silt island is susceptible to cyclones and flooding and is only accessible by boat. The UN has so far been denied the opportunity to conduct a technical and protection assessment of the island.
On 20 October, the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, declared that Bangladesh will start the relocation process at the beginning of November 2019. This follows reports that Government officials have started compiling the lists of refugees who are willing to move, and that several thousand have already confirmed their acceptance.
Their joint statement said:
“We are extremely concerned by the proposal to relocate Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char island. We believe that, based on the evidence we’ve received, the current conditions are unsafe for relocation. We remain concerned that provisions are not in place to guarantee equal treatment between Rohingya and Bangladesh nationals, including freedom of movement and access to livelihoods for those who choose to be resettled on Bhasan Char.
We are not convinced that safety can be guaranteed on Bhasan Char, and are concerned about the dangerous precedent such a move would set in relation to the forced relocation of refugees in other parts of the world. It is imperative that any relocation or repatriation of the Rohingya people are safe, dignified and crucially, voluntary. We appeal to the Government of Bangladesh to demonstrate the same compassion as they did hosting Rohingya refugees when they initially fled persecution from Burma.”