Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bangladesh ships 1,600 Rohingya to controversial flood-prone island

Bangladesh ships 1,600 Rohingya to controversial flood-prone island

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rohingya refugees stand in a queue after they disembarked from a Bangladesh Navy ship to the island of Bashar Char in Noakhali on Friday. AFP

Bangladesh ships 1,600 Rohingya to controversial flood-prone island

Bangladesh transported more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island on December 4 in the first phase of a controversial planned relocation of 100,000 people.

Almost a million Rohingya – most of whom fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar three years ago – live in squalid camps in southeastern Bangladesh. Any return to Myanmar appears unlikely for now.

Dhaka wants to move 100,000 of the refugees to Bhashan Char, a silt island that critics say is prone to flooding and in the path of cyclones that frequently wreak havoc in the region.

Rights groups have alleged that many of those sent in the first wave on December 4 were coerced into going with threats or sweeteners.

This was borne out by some family members that AFP spoke to at camps in the Cox’s Bazar district on December 3 as they said tearful goodbyes to their relatives.

“They beat my son mercilessly and even smashed his teeth so that he agreed to go to the island,” said Sufia Khatun, 60, who came to see off her son and five other relatives.

At the UN, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there had been “some reports from the camps that some refugees may be feeling pressured into relocating” or had changed their minds about going.

“If so, they should be allowed to remain in the camps in Cox’s Bazar,” he said.

But Bangladesh’s foreign minister AK Abdul Momen called the claims “a damn lie”, and said the facilities on the island were “much better” than in the camps.

Bangladesh has spent some $400 million from its own coffers building shelters and a 3m flood embankment around the facilities.

The government said the facilities are “strongly built with concrete foundation which can withstand natural disasters such as cyclones and tidal waves”.

The island “has all modern amenities, year-round fresh water, [a] beautiful lake and proper infrastructure and enhanced facilities”, the foreign ministry said on December 4.

It said: “These include uninterrupted supply of electricity and water, agricultural plots, cyclone shelters, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, recreation and learning centres, playgrounds, et cetera.”

Bangladeshi authorities say the relocation will ease congestion in the vast network of camps where deadly landslides – as well as violence by drug gangs and extremists – are common.

But it is unclear whether the refugees will be able to leave if they wish to.

The UN office in Bangladesh said it had been prevented from independently assessing the “safety, feasibility and sustainability” of the island as a place to live.

New York-based Dujarric echoed that claim, saying: “We have not been involved.

“Any movement of refugees needs to be done voluntarily and in safety and dignity.”


  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia's cluster cases jump to 259

    The Ministry of Health on February 27 recorded 26 more cases of Covid-19 linked to the February 20 community transmission, bringing the total to 259 in one week. The 26 include three Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. The ministry noted that five of the Chinese