Rohingya: refugees stranded at sea transferred to the controversial island after landing on Bangladesh

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Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh, after being stranded at sea for weeks.
The 29 refugees, mostly women and children, were brought to the cyclone-threatening island Bhashan Char – also known as Thengar Char – to protect the sprawling refugee camps of the Cox’s Bazar from the spread of Bangladesh naval lieutenant Covid-19 Abdur Rashid told CNN.

Cox Bazaar, which is home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees, has been in a tight block since the beginning of April – only very limited movement is allowed within the seedy mass of makeshift camps.

Refugees now in Bhashan Char were among hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees trapped at sea in “appalling conditions” for weeks after attempting to flee to Malaysia, according to a European Union statement. Stateless ethnic minorities are not recognized as citizens from their home country of Myanmar, despite having traced their roots there for centuries. Bangladesh has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled for humanitarian reasons, but has not been granted any rights and are confined to refugee camps. Authorities are still investigating where the group starts.

Rashid says the group – which includes 19 women, five men and five children – is not believed to be suffering from the virus that has killed nearly 250,000 people worldwide.

“They have no crown symptoms, but medical investigations and tests are ongoing,” said Rashid.

Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Return Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder confirmed that 29 people had been “sent to Bhashan Char by the Bangladesh army” where they have access to medical facilities, food and water. Talukder added that it is unclear whether they will be returned to the mainland after a quarantine period or whether they will remain there.

They are the first Rohingya refugees to be sent to the island. The government has built structures there for several years, with plans to relocate thousands of people from Cox’s Bazar, although no timetable has been set.

Many of them fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape a violent military crackdown in 2017, which led the Hague International Court of Justice to order Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population from genocide.
The Myanmar government has denied committing genocide, but has admitted that some soldiers have carried out war crimes. Numerous attempts to return refugees to Myanmar have failed, in part because of the Rohingya population’s fears of being targeted again. The United Nations is also concerned about the lack of access to return areas.

CNN was unable to reach Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry for comment.

Low and uninhabited island

The transfer of Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char is also problematic. The United Nations says more time is needed to assess the safety of the uninhabited island, as it is often partially submerged during the monsoon season, which is rapidly approaching.

The Myanmar state-run Global New Light of Myanmar warned on Monday that a low-pressure area in the Gulf of Bengal and the Andaman Sea is expected to intensify in the coming days, bringing heavy rains.

“The long-standing position of the United Nations is that comprehensive technical and protective assessments for assessing the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before any transfer to the island takes place,” said Louise Donovan of the United Nations Refugee (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar. “The United Nations has long been prepared to proceed with on-site evaluation work.”

As of Friday, according to Amnesty International, about 800 Rohingya refugees would have been stranded on boats in the Gulf of Bengal.

The group issued an open letter urging the governments of the region to allow them to dock humanitarian reasons.

“The COVID-19 pandemic cannot justify states’ refusal to allow Rohingya to land,” says the letter. “Forcing refugees to stay aboard boats also poses risks for their right to health and potentially their right to life.”

The European Union also urged the governments of the region to “conduct a search and rescue operation and find a solution for them safe landing“.

Louise Donovan of UNHCR said that any refugee arriving in Cox Bazaar would undergo “full medical screening” before being quarantined for 14 days.

“The public health imperatives associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to protect people seeking refuge are not mutually exclusive and can be met together,” added Donovan.

In 2015 hundreds of Rohingya migrants were trapped in the sea aboard a boat.

‘It’s like deja vu to 2015’

The crisis is likely to repeat a similar situation in 2015, when thousands of Rohingya refugees have been stranded at sea for weeks. In the end, countries included Indonesia and Malaysia have allowed them to land.

“It’s like deja vu for 2015,” said Yanghee Lee, a former UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, in an interview with CNN on April 28, before his mandate was added.

Last month, UNHCR said 30 Rohingya refugees died at sea after a boat “ran out of food, water and fuel during a nearly two-month long journey at sea”. Nearly 400 others were rescued by Bangladesh authorities and screened and quarantined upon arrival, UNHCR added.

“Survivors include a large number of women and children. They are all in poor physical condition, many are dehydrated and malnourished and need immediate medical attention,” said UNHCR. He added that there was no evidence that anyone on board contracted Covid-19.

“I understand there are some boats full of Rohingya that are not allowed to enter or dock in neighboring ASEAN countries,” said Yanghee Lee. “I would really like to appeal to the leadership of those respective governments, that there are ways to get them in and quarantined.”

However, ASEAN countries seem reluctant to welcome refugees as border restrictions tighten to control the spread of coronavirus.

Malaysia, which is often the target destination of Rohingya boats, prevented a ship from entering on April 17 after the government closed borders with foreigners due to Covid-19, according to comments by Malaysian minister Hamzah Zainudin , published by the Malay Bernama state news agency on Thursday.

“The Ministry of the Interior wants to emphasize that the authorities will always be ready to prevent any intrusion on its borders and in territorial waters,” Hamzah said, adding that Malaysia distributed food supplies for humanitarian reasons, before escorting the boat out of the water. of the country.

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