Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET on 2020-09-15
Rohingya in Bangladesh must have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lives, and those who are housed on a remote Bay of Bengal island must be reunited with their families in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, two international rights groups said Tuesday.
Bangladesh needs to ensure that about 1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh have the right to freedom of movement and liberty, health care, freedom of expression and information, and education, Amnesty International (AI) said in a briefing Tuesday.
Another rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), issued a statement claiming many of these rights are being violated, especially in Bhashan Char, the Bay of Bengal island where 306 Rohingya were taken in May.
In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a brutal offensive in the wake of deadly attacks carried out on police and army posts by Rohingya insurgents. Since the crackdown more than 740,000 of the minority Muslims fled Myanmar for Bangladesh after decades of systematic discrimination and oppression at home.
“Now, three years since their displacement, they are still suffering and prevented from speaking up for their rights,” said David Griffiths, director of the Office of the Secretary General at AI.
The rights group also said Rohingya have told them they don’t have adequate access to medical facilities and their children’s education has been affected by the displacement and then by the COVID-19 pandemic.
HRW, meanwhile, said the Rohingya on Bhashan Char are being denied freedom of movement, lack medical facilities and should not be forced to live in unhospitable conditions.
“The Bangladesh government is detaining refugees on a remote island, separated from their families, in a callous attempt to claim that that it is safe and habitable,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
The Bangladesh government “has failed to honor its pledge” not to involuntarily hold Rohingya refugees on Bhashan Char, HRW said.
“Has Bangladesh made a mistake?”
Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, challenged AI’s statement.
“Amnesty International has been alleging that we are not consulting the Rohingya for decisions [on Rohingya issues], but they cannot raise a strong voice against Myanmar that has persecuted and massacred the Rohingya,” Talukder said. “Has Bangladesh made a mistake by giving the Rohingya shelter?”
Talukder echoed comments by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and senior officials who have said the South Asian country could not indefinitely bear the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“Bangladesh has been bearing a huge burden of hosting over 1 million Rohingya. But the international bodies have only been finding fault with Bangladesh,” he said.
In its statement, AI acknowledged that Bangladeshi authorities “have taken many positive steps to support the Rohingya refugees,” but added they need to involve Rohingya in decisions that affect them.
Earlier this month, 40 Rohingya leaders, representing 34 refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, were taken to Bhashan Char by members of Bangladesh’s armed forces to evaluate conditions on the island where Bangladesh wants to relocate 100,000 refugees.
Bangladesh says the facilities on the island are better than in the refugee camps where the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been living for the last three years.
But many of those who visited told HRW that their compatriots on the island desperately want to leave and return to the Cox’s Bazar camps. Some told HRW that the refugees on the island were being denied freedom of movement.
One of the Rohingya women who was part of the delegation that visited Bhashan Char told BenarNews that refugees on the island live in poor conditions.
“Bhashan Char is like a jail. Those who have been taken there do not want to live there. They want to return to Cox’s Bazar at any cost,” Jamalida Begum told BenarNews on Tuesday.
Other visitors told HRW and AI that that they heard accounts of sexual harassment or abuse on the island.
However, Asma Begum, one of the Rohingya on Bhashan Char, told BenarNews she has not heard of anyone being sexually abused, but acknowledged she and others are not treated well.
“Very often, the on-duty personnel hurl abusive words against us,” she told BenarNews.
Golam Faruk, an assistant superintendent of police in Noakhali, denied allegations of sexual harassment or torture of the Rohingya by security officials. Bhashan Char is in Noakhali district.
“There is no sexual harassment and torture at Bhashan Char. The reality is the Rohingya do not want to live here. That is why they make such baseless allegations,” Faruk told BenarNews.