Curbs vex relocated Rohingya on Bangladeshi island

Alaturka Politika Haberleri

By Md. Kamruzzaman

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – A growing discontent was visible on the face of Mohammad, who has been relocated among many of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim refugees to a remote island in southern Bangladesh's Bay of Bengal.

Despite better living conditions on the remote island in the southern sea of Bangladesh, Mohammad says the tight restrictions were frustrating the Rohingya refugees in Bhasan Char, a Bangla-language term synonymous with floating island.

The silt island located 50 kilometers (31 miles) off Bangladesh's southwestern coast and nearly 193 km (120 mi) south of the capital Dhaka, is home to 3,760 Rohingya refugees, including 306 who were rescued by the Bangladeshi Navy in May last year after being stranded on cramped boats at sea.

The Navy planned to send them back, but the risky sea route in the midst of the pandemic forced them to relocate to this island.

An estimated 860,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled mass atrocities in Myanmar almost three and a half years ago are living in the world's largest refugee camp in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. Authorities in Dhaka began relocating 100,000 of them to Bhasan Char in December last year, but succeeded in shifting only 3,760 refugees in two phases.

"More than three years have already passed, we see no meaningful sign of a sustainable repatriation of us to our homeland [Rakhine State, Myanmar] and now we live as stateless people on a distant island," Mohammad told Anadolu Agency.

Underlining Bangladesh's commitments before the relocation, camp-based Rohingya leader Mohammad added: "We were told that we would be allowed to fish, farm, and small-scale trade, but we are now under tight restrictions."

Bhasan Char island emerged from the sea surface 25 years ago and is reportedly vulnerable to natural disasters, but Bangladeshi authorities say it is safe and well protected.

The UN and several international rights organizations, as well as Rohingya diaspora groups, have urged Bangladesh to postpone the relocation until a full-fledged feasibility study on the island's habitability has been completed with foreign experts.

Another Rohingya refugee, Afsar, applauded the better living conditions on the island over the packed bamboo and tarpaulin-made tents in Cox's Bazar.

"But, here we are more restricted than Cox's Bazar and barred from working, even though Bangladesh's government has assured us of earning livelihoods," said Afsar, sitting in his family room where two bunk beds were placed.

The government has constructed 120 multi-storied cyclone shelters and 1,400 big cluster houses four feet above the ground with concrete blocks on the island. Each cluster house is made up of 16 rooms.

Spending over $350 million from its internal resources, the Bangladeshi government has developed a resettlement project on 13,000 acres, according to official information.

Afsar said: "We are provided with adequate rice and other food items. Yet we pay more money than the market price when we buy vegetables, fish and some other daily-use items. Some Bangladeshi traders are doing unethical profits on the island."

The government's monthly sum turned out to be quite inadequate due to the overpricing by local grocery traders, he added.

Other of the island's inmates also complained about the rough attitude of workers there.

– Human rights bodies concerned at Rohingya relocation

Rohingya human rights defenders are also worried about the overall safety on the island, as no foreign community has yet been involved in the relocation process.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ambia Parveen, chairwoman of the European Rohingya Council, described the process as ambiguous and said: "I don't understand why Bangladesh is trying to push Rohingya to go there [island] with a false livelihood promise."

"We will feel better if Bangladesh immediately starts its process of rehabilitation with the support of the UN and the international community," said Parveen.

Referring to this week's tripartite dialogue among Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China with the assurance that the repatriation process would start in the second half of the year, she asked: "Why is Bangladesh still trying to relocate more [Rohingya] refugees to the island?"

Emphasizing sustainable repatriation, Executive Director of the Burma Human Rights Network Kyaw Win said: "These Rohingya refugees should repatriate to Burma [Myanmar] but not to a remote island. It's not a solution, but it will increase the pain of the traumatized genocide survivors."

– Government assurance of safety

Bangladesh Navy Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, who is the director of the Rohingya relocation project on the island and provides security assurance to Rohingya refugees, said their top priority is to ensure the protection of women.

"The government has directed us to ensure their safety until their peaceful repatriation," Chowdhury said.

To a question about refugees' complaints against the rough attitude of some naval staff, the commodore promised that he would investigate the matter.

"We are going to deploy the female police there. There are also many female workers and employees of local NGOs [non-governmental organizations]," Refugee Commissioner Md. Mahbub Alam Talukder said.

He also promised to make it easier for the Rohingya to earn a living on the island with the involvement of various government departments.

The country's Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal recently inaugurated a newly built police station on the island, aiming to ensure safety and security there.

[Names of Rohingya refugees in this report have been changed at the request of the individuals concerned.]

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