Rohingya refugees who tried to leave the government-designated settlement of Bhasan Char island have been beaten and arbitrarily detained by Bangladeshi security forces, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
Bangladesh security forces on April 6, arrested and beat at least 12 refugees who were caught trying to leave the island, restricting their freedom of movement.
The Bangladesh government has relocated nearly 20,000 Rohingya refugees to the remote island without consulting international experts to ensure their safety or determining their humanitarian needs.
“The Bangladesh government saved countless lives by providing refuge to Rohingya people, but this doesn’t justify detaining them on an island and beating them if they try to move,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.
“The burden Bangladesh has taken on in caring for Rohingya refugees does not negate its responsibility to ensure they are safe, and their rights are respected.”
Witnesses said that security forces beat the refugees during an interrogation in the newly built police station on Bhasan Char. According to one witness, a police officer said, “Tell your Rohingyas that if they are thinking of escape, their fate will be same.”
The authorities also raided Bhasan Char shelters to identify those missing, and beat residents demanding information.
Families of two detained Rohingya said that they had no information about the whereabouts of their relatives. They also said that unidentified people claiming to be from the police had demanded a bribe to provide information.
In the April 12 incident, families and a witness said that a man in a navy uniform beat four children, ages 8 to 11, with a PVC pipe because they had crossed into another block to play with other children. Photographs shared by the refugees show severe bruises from the beating.
The Bangladesh government says it wants to relocate at least 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited silt island in the Bay of Bengal, to ease the overcrowding in the camps set up in Cox’s Bazar where many Rohingya settled after fleeing an ethnic cleansing campaign by the Myanmar military. Several thousand have already been relocated from the refugee camps, despite serious concerns over the island’s habitability.
The authorities started populating the island by first taking 306 Rohingya refugees stranded at sea to Bhasan Char, initially to quarantine them to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but is continuing to hold them there a year later.
Among the refugees caught trying to escape from Bhasan Char, were some that were rescued at sea in May 2020. Authorities at the time had promised that they would be reunited with their families. However, one refugee told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had refused to heed their plea to be returned to the camps in Cox’s Bazar: “The officers used a rubber stick to beat the detainees. These people did not commit a crime. They were just desperate after so many false promises from the authorities here that they would take back them to their families.”
These security force abuses occurred shortly after a visit by foreign heads of mission to Bhasan Char on April 3. A United Nations team also was allowed to visit the island from March 17 to 20.
“Bangladesh authorities should act promptly and impartially to put an end to the beatings and wrongful detention of refugees or risk the international goodwill they have earned,” Adams said.
“Donor countries and UN agencies need to be asking serious questions about the conditions in Bhasan Char – and getting answers.” (Source: HRW)