The government of Bangladesh is angrily rejecting claims it is forcibly moving Rohingya refugees to a remote cyclone-prone island against their will.
Hundreds of members of the ethnic minority have been taken to the isolated island of Bhasan Char which only emerged from the estuarine waters in the 1980s and is frequently inundated, although Bangladesh claims to have installed flood defences.
“We took them all voluntarily,” Bangladesh foreign minister Abdul Momen told Sky News.
“We did not force anyone. We did not pay a penny to anyone.”
Image: Rohingya refugees aboard a ship as they are moved to Bhasan Char island on 4 December
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have produced testimony from Rohingyas claiming to have been forced to relocate to Bhasan Char or lured into doing so on false pretences.
Some claim to have been promised preferential treatment if they move.
The foreign minister angrily refuted the claims.
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“These are totally false and make believe,” he said. “We have been asking international organisations for the last three years but they have somehow not wanted to go there. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch don’t know anything about it.”
Bangladesh says more than a million Rohingya refugees are within its borders after they fled persecution from Myanmar’s military in Rakhine state.
Most are in makeshift camps that are becoming more and more permanent. Aid agencies have urged Bangladesh’s government to spend money improving conditions in the camps.
Image: Much of Bhasan Char lies barely above sea level
Instead, Bangladesh claims to have spent millions building built sea defences, making the island cyclone-proof and says it has found no shortage of refugees willing to move to the remote island.
But Mark Farmaner from Burma Campaign UK told Sky News that was untrue.
“These people do not want to go there,” he said. “They want to stay in the refugee camps where they have support systems, where they have managed to establish some forms of informal education, where they have communities around after they being through such a traumatic experience.”
He says government claims about the transparency of the relocation process are false.
“All the journalists that we have spoken to in the area say they have been denied access by the government,” he said. “So I think there has been quite a big spin and propaganda operation here.”
Bangladesh says it hopes to move 100,000 refugees onto Bhasan Char. Its foreign minister told Sky News he is frustrated at how the relocation effort is being represented.
“These international agencies should applaud us, they should thank us,” Mr Momen said. “Because we are so generous and we have created a model in the world that a country that is in difficult straits but yet out of humanity they have been providing shelter and giving better shelter.”
The United Nations has opposed the relocations to the island saying they should not happen until comprehensive technical assessments have been carried out to ensure the cyclone-prone island is for refugees to live on.
Source : Sky News