Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are currently facing a human rights crisis and fear for their safety after staging a hunger strike, which began on September 21st, 2020. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the protest was in response to Bangladesh’s attempt to relocate an estimated 10,000 Rohingyans to an unsafe island known as Bhasan Char Island. Refugees detained in Bhasan Char demanded they be brought back to Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh and reunited with family members. Individuals stated they would rather starve than continue to live with the horrible conditions on the island. HRW noted that women, men, and children were beaten, supposedly with branches and black rubber sticks to silence the protests.
Brad Adams, the Director of the Asian division of Human Rights Watch, expressed concern by saying, “In a darkly ironic attempt to portray Bhasan 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.” As reported by HRW, a refugee who participated in the hunger strike claimed that the strike ended after being beaten. Still, individuals have given up on the possibility of being reunited with family members in the camp. Adams also stated that “The real way to show Bhasan Char is secure and habitable would be to allow United Nations experts to conduct an independent assessment of the island to ensure that any relocation there is voluntary.” Bangladesh’s government has refused to allow a UN visit to the island to provide services to the refugees (more than 300) currently detained on the island.
The terrible conditions on the island reportedly include insufficient medical resources and services as well as restrictions on movement. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and humanitarian experts have previously called for Bangladesh authorities to allow them to return to the Cox’s Bazar camp. The UN must push for an investigation into the living conditions and treatment of the refugees on this island.
Since 2015, the Rohingya people have been forcibly displaced from their homes in Myanmar. Many have gone to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. According to Human Rights Watch, refugees were first sent to Bhasan Char to quarantine due to COVID-19 and have not returned home until months later. The Telegraph has compared the island to “a prison with limited health and education facilities” and states that there is no protection from “the cyclones that regularly hit the region.” Refugees fear for family members’ safety on the island and are pushing for them to return to Cox’s Bazar camp.
Human rights groups and family members of the detained refugees on Bhasan Char Island call for investigations into the allegations against Bangladeshi authorities regarding the beating of refugees after the hunger strike. There are concerns that women and children are experiencing sexual violence and living conditions are inhabitable on the island. Without aid from the UN, the refugees’ plight will remain under the radar, and the situation risks escalating even further.
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