UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief, Filippo Grandi voiced his concern over reports of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh being moved to Bhasan Char, an island off the country’s coast, in the Bay of Bengal.
In a tweet on Sunday, Grandi said that “any transfer must follow a voluntary, informed decision”.
He also stated that the “UNHCR and UN partners seek access to them in order to hear their voices, understand their wishes and see conditions on the island”.
About 1,600 Rohingya refugees have moved from camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char island, a low-lying island said to be vulnerable to cyclones and flooding, according to media reports.
The UN office in Bangladesh stated last week that it has not been involved in preparations for the movement of refugees to Bhasan Char, or in selecting or deciding which families would be moving.
In a statement, the office stressed that “any relocations to Bhasan Char should be preceded by comprehensive technical protection assessments.”
The independent UN assessments would review the safety, feasibility and sustainability of Bhasan Char as a place for refugees to live, as well as the framework for protection and the assistance and services they would be able to access on the island.
“Since the Government announced the Bhasan Char project, the UN has offered to engage in constructive consultations aimed at better understanding the plan and considering with the Government the most critical policy, process and operational issues,” the UN statement said.
“[We] remain willing to continue this dialogue”, the statement added.
The complex Rohingya refugee crisis erupted in August 2017, following attacks on remote police outposts in western Myanmar by armed groups alleged to belong to the community.
The Myanmar government retaliated by systematic counter attacks against the minority, mainly Muslim Rohingya, which human rights groups, including senior UN officials, have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.
In the weeks that followed, over 700,000 Rohingya – the majority of them children, women and the elderly – fled their homes for safety in Bangladesh, with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Prior to the mass exodus, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in Bangladesh as a result of earlier displacements from Myanmar.
Currently, nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees live in the Cox’s Bazar settlements. (Source: UN News)