Bangladesh denies promising citizenship to Rohingya in remote island


A Bangladeshi official denied rumours that Rohingya refugees who voluntarily move to Bhasan Char, a remote and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, will be offered citizenship.

US-based NGO Refugees International said in the report it released on Thursday, it has received credible reports that camp officials have falsely promised payments and Bangladeshi citizenship to the Rohingya who relocate to the island.

The NGO also said that other refugees report ‘volunteering’ to be relocated only after being offered amnesty from pending criminal charges.

Delwar Hossain, director general of the Myanmar wing at the foreign ministry on the same day dismissed the report by Refugees International as false, saying that Bangladesh is focused on repatriating Rohingya to neighbouring Myanmar.

“This is totally a lie that we have promised the Rohingya people Bangladeshi citizenship for their relocation to Bhasan Char. Why would we offer the Myanmar people Bangladeshi citizenship?” Hossain said to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

“Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world. We do not have a shortage of population. The government’s principal focus is the early return of the Rohingya to their homeland in Myanmar.”

Hossain also denied that Bangladesh offers to waive criminal charges against Rohingya who have them, in exchange for moving offshore.

“There is no link between relocation to Bhasan Char and exemption of the criminal charges of the Rohingya. Persons committing criminal charges must face trial no matter where they stay or live. This is also a false claim,” Hossain said.

According to him, the 18,000 or so refugees who relocated to the island did so voluntarily.

The program to transfer refugees to Bhasan Char is aimed mainly at “decongesting the overcrowded camps in Ukhia and Teknaf,” Hossain said, referring to the refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where around 1 million Rohingya are sheltering.

BenarNews spoke to some Rohingya who had moved to Bhasan Char. They denied that Bangladesh had promised them citizenship or offered to waive any criminal charges, in exchange for moving to the island.

The Rohingya who moved were, however, told they would get a monthly allowance if they relocated to Bhasan Char, said Nurul Islam, a Rohingya leader on the island.

“Each of the Rohingya family was given Tk 5,000 [U.S. $59] when we relocated. But we are not getting that promised money anymore,” Islam told BenarNews.

However, Daniel P. Sullivan, who authored the Refugees International report, said he had heard about Bangladesh’s purported incentives for the Rohingya to move to Bhasan Char from credible contacts in the South Asian nation.

“For reasons of safety and confidentiality, I am unable to identify the sources of these reports, but can say that they come from trusted contacts who have heard directly from refugees,” Sullivan told BenarNews.

“I can also say that in previous visits to the camps in 2019, I had heard similar reports directly from Rohingya refugees saying that they had been offered money or Bangladeshi citizenship if they agreed to move to Bhasan Char.” (Source: RFA)