Bangladesh takes advantage of pandemic as a means of distraction

Rohingya refugees are being brought to an uninhabitable island (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) accuses the government of Bangladesh of using the Corona crisis as a pretext to relocate Rohingya refugees to the uninhabitable island of Bhashan Char – against the strong recommendation of the United Nations and several aid and human rights organizations. On June 15, 2020, around 400 refugees were rescued from sea as boat people and brought to a controversial reception facility on the island under the pretext of quarantine. "However, weeks after their rescue, it is now becoming clear that Bangladesh wants to relocate many more refugees to Bhashan Char. The pretext of trying to fight the pandemic is supposed to undermine international resistance against the inhumane camp. The refugees will be marginalized and traumatized even more," warned Ulrich Delius, the STP's Director, in Göttingen on Tuesday.

During the last few days, the Bangladeshi authorities made it clear that they are not prepared to reunite boat people interned on Bhashan Char with their relatives in refugee camps on the mainland after their coronavirus quarantine. Families who want to live together must agree to be transferred to the island, the authorities said.

According to the Bangladeshi government, the island, which is about two hours by boat from the coast, is to accommodate up to 100,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma). Bangladesh's navy built the facilities in 2019 and 2020, and around 700,000 Rohingya have been living in overcrowded refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar region for years. However, the planned relocation had to be postponed several times because no one volunteered for the transfer. Foreign governments, UN organizations, as well as aid and human rights groups are warning against the planned resettlement to the island. The previously uninhabited island is regularly flooded during heavy storms and offers nothing to ensure that the refugees can make a living. "Those who will live on Bhashan Char are completely at the mercy of the armed forces, as only the army will decide who can provide how much humanitarian aid there. The refugees are in danger of being forgotten there," Delius warned.

"These attempts to use Covid-19 as a pretext to get rid of refugees are to be seen as human rights violations. The Rohingya fled from genocide crimes. They don't deserve such an inhumane treatment. They will be traumatized once again," Delius emphasized. Following the escalation of violence and genocide against the Rohingya in Maynmar in 2017, more than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Most of them live in Camp Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world. The authorities were reluctant to accept them there.