It is estimated that 1,642 Rohingya were moved to the flood-prone island of the Bay of Bengal before the UN could assess the safety of the refugees.
A United Nations human rights expert has called for an independent assessment of conditions in Bhasan Char, the remote island of Bangladesh where more than a thousand Rohingya were taken earlier this month, as he condemned the world’s “failure” to take action to help the refugees return home to Myanmar.
The 1,642 Rohingya refugees were transferred to Bhasan Char Island even before the UN could determine whether the island was “fit to safely accommodate this vulnerable population,” said Tom Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
“These checks and evaluations are in everyone’s best interest,” he said in a statement.
“They will assure the government of Bangladesh of Bhasan Char’s suitability to host refugees or identify any changes that may be needed. It will also ensure that the government’s strict voluntary relocation policy in Bhasan Char is, indeed, faithfully enforced.
The Rohingya refugees sailed from the port of Chittagong in southern Bangladesh to Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal on December 4, despite opposition from humanitarian groups to the move.
They were among more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military crackdown that the UN says was carried out with genocidal intent. Myanmar has denied the declaration of genocide and said its forces were targeting Rohingya rebels who attacked police stations.
Bangladesh has said it has decided to relocate the Rohingya to Bhasan Char to alleviate chronic overcrowding in camps that are home to more than a million people – those who fled in 2017 as well as others who escaped previous ones. outbreaks of violence.
Refugees and aid workers, however, said some of the refugees were forced to travel to the flood-prone island, which emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
The rapporteur’s comments come as the US State Department reiterated the need for “independent access” to Bhasan Char and raised concerns about the island’s vulnerability to extreme weather conditions.
“Independent access to Bhasan Char will help confirm whether the refugees have been moved voluntarily and remain there voluntarily, and whether the site is suitable to withstand cyclones and seasonal flooding,” Senior Deputy Spokesman Cale Brown said in a statement. communicated.
Andrews said any further action by Bangladesh to relocate refugees should be contingent on the outcome of the proposed UN assessment, adding that those who move should do so “of their own accord” and that their safety should be a priority. .
Andrews said the Bangladeshi government “has been extraordinarily generous and compassionate” in providing safe food to the Rohingya, but failure to create the conditions for their return to Myanmar after three years has created an “untenable situation”.
He said that ultimately the blame should be on Myanmar, which has “the moral and legal responsibility” to end the crisis.
“Make no mistake: the Rohingya crisis originated in Myanmar and can only be resolved in Myanmar,” Andrew said.
“After being forced to literally run for their lives across the Bangladesh border, the Rohingya want and deserve to return home.”
The US State Department has also urged the Myanmar government to “create the conditions” for the “voluntary, safe and dignified return” of Rohingya refugees. The United States has contributed $ 1.2 billion to the UN since the crisis began three years ago, he said.