Bangladesh has sent over two dozen Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited remote island after they entered the country in small boats following weeks of being stranded at sea. The refugees landed on the coast of southern Bangladesh on Saturday, with some sent to Bhasan Char, a silt island in the estuary of Bangladesh’s Meghna River, an official said.
Hundreds more refugees remain stranded on at least two trawlers between Bangladesh and Malaysia, according to rights groups, who said Southeast Asian governments are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to refuse entry of Rohingya refugees.
“A small boat carrying 43 people came to shore today,” the Bangladesh government official said. It is not clear how many have been sent to Bhasan Char.
Bangladesh, which hosts about 1 million Rohingya who have fled persecution in Myanmar, previously said it would house refugees on the island, which is accessible only by a three-hour boat ride.
The plan has been widely opposed by Rohingya refugees, and condemned by NGOs, who warn Bhasan Char is vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges.
Human rights groups say that relocating refugees would leave them isolated, with limited access to education and health services.
Yanghee Lee, who recently stepped down as the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, previously said it was unclear whether the island was “truly habitable”.
Chris Lewa, the director of the Arakan Project monitoring group, said the refugees who landed on Saturday had probably come on a small boat from one the larger vessels still at sea, believed to be carrying hundreds of people.
On Saturday, Rohingya refugees whose relatives, including children, have been missing for weeks on the boats, pleaded with international governments to act before they perish. The refugees onboard, who were fleeing desperate conditions in camps in Bangladesh, had attempted to reach Malaysia but were turned away.
Two boats carrying approximately 500 people were last spotted off Bangladesh about a week ago. The country’s foreign minister said Bangladesh was already overburdened and would not allow the boats to dock.
Last month, the Bangladesh authorities rescued a ship, allowing about 400 emaciated people, mostly teenagers, to come ashore after spending two harrowing months at sea.
Passengers were starved and beaten by traffickers, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, which treated survivors. More than 70 people may have died on the boat, it has been reported, though no official death toll has been announced. (Source: The Guardian)