Rohingya refugees living on Bhashan Char said Bangladesh Navy personnel beat them with rubber clubs and tree branches last month when they protested their detention on the island, according to a Human Rights Watch statement on Thursday, drawing denials from government officials.
About 306 Rohingya who have been on the island since May began a hunger strike on Sept. 21, about two weeks after a group of Rohingya leaders from refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar traveled to the island to judge its suitability for resettlement, HRW said.
Rohingya living on Bhashan Char confirmed the HRW report of mistreatment.
“In a darkly ironic attempt to portray Bhashan Char as a safe location, Bangladesh authorities beat Rohingya refugees, including children, who were protesting their detention and begging to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar,” Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“The real way to show Bhashan Char is secure and habitable would be to allow United Nations experts to conduct an independent assessment of the island and to ensure that any relocation there is voluntary.”
Bangladesh authorities told BenarNews, an RFA-afffiliated online news service, that they would decide whether to return the Bhashan Char refugees to the mainland after a second group of Rohingya are taken to visit the island to assess living conditions.
Meanwhile, Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told BenarNews that U.N. officials had learned about the alleged beatings from media reports.
“The Bhashan Char visit should take place as soon as possible so that we can directly speak to the Rohingya refugees,” he told BenarNews.
Bangladesh built facilities on Bhashan Char, a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal, with the aim of relieving pressure on densely packed refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, which house close to 1 million Rohingya who fled cycles of violence in Myanmar, where they are a despised and stateless minority.
‘We were beaten’
The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media agency of the armed forces and the ministry of defense, called the HRW report “unrealistic, untrue, confusing and a falsehood.”
“The Bangladesh Navy has been working to ensure a smooth life for the forcefully displaced people of Myanmar in Bhashan Char. Through coordination with other forces, the navy has been ensuring safety of these forcefully displaced people,” the ISPR said.
Dipak Jyoti Khisha, additional superintendent of police in Noakhali district which oversees Bhashan Char, said the Rohingya on the island had been treated properly.
“None of them were beaten,” he told BenarNews.
Two young Rohingya living on Bhashan Char challenged the government officials, saying they were mistreated during their hunger strike.
“Beginning Sept. 20, we did not take food for three consecutive days and demanded reintegration with our families in Cox’s Bazar,” Mahabubur Rahman, 19, told BenarNews. “We were beaten when all the men, women, and children went out of the building.”
He said he had relatives at a refugee camp in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.
Md Jobair, 20, said he and others living on the island were suffering.
“We did not get any assurance even after staging a hunger strike for three days,” he told BenarNews.
Chowdhury said staff on the island worked with the Rohingya.
“On Sept. 21 and 22, they did not take food, but none of them got sick. They took food as we motivated them to end their hunger strike,” he said.
He said his team had met with the Rohingya on Sept. 22 to discuss efforts to help them return to the mainland but reached no decision.
Reported by BenarNews,an RFA-affiliated online news service.