Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh – Bhasan Char Island is simply terrible and unlivable, say at least four Rohingya refugees we have talked to, as the Bangladesh government plans to relocate some of refugees from the currently concentrated refugee camps in south eastern Bangladesh.
There are already over 300 Rohingya refugees who have been put on the island – an unstable and dangerous island formed by Himalayan silt at the mouth of river Meghna in the Bay of Bengal in 2006 -- and majority of them are women. They are from the refugees who made unsuccessful attempts to flee to Malaysia and had to turn back to Bangladesh but only to be put on the island instead of their refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar area.
A refugee leader, asking to withhold his identity while in his visit to the island arranged by the government, said “they don’t have clean water for drinking and other use. The drinking water supplied to them from a reservoir built on the island around 2 or 3 years ago is full of mosquito larvae and other forms of infectious microorganism. They have to either collect rain water or filter the water supplied for drinking and other use resulting in skin diseases.
“Most of the time, they don’t get raw ration to cook by themselves. They are cooked and supplied by some Noakhali people. And they don’t feel like eating that.”
Reports also emerge that police and security forces assigned on the island for security often beat up and manhandle the refugees, especially women. Some video clips have surfaced online and social media also indicate the same thing. Now, the authorities reportedly hire some other local women to manhandle or beat up the refugee women as a means of disciplining the refugee women.
TROUBLE IN BHASAN CHAR:— Shafiur Rahman (@shafiur) September 6, 2020
Security men with helmets & visors restraining and mandhandling #Rohingya women. Those Rohingya kept in Bhasan Char desperate to leave with the visiting Rohingya. Audio suggests visitors reassuring them that they will return tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/mQ5GXofly9
Another refugee leader said “they made unsuccessful attempts to flee to Malaysia and majority of them are women between 18 and 25. The authorities have conducted marriages between some women and some men on the island against their wills. They are in desperate condition. Some women are attempting to commit suicide.”
BHASAN CHAR SCENES OF DESPERATION: #Rohingya #refugees, rescued from the boat sent back my #Malaysia, have been kept on the island - clearly AGAINST their wishes. Here they are calling on god. See other video where they are being physically stopped from leaving by security. pic.twitter.com/jc0SAWlmiw— Shafiur Rahman (@shafiur) September 6, 2020
The refugees on the island do not have free telecommunication access to their family members and relatives elsewhere.
“It appears they can use phones to call their families and relatives only when the authorities allow them to do so. Access to internet service is out of question for now. Besides, people from one block cannot move to another. They are so restricted. They feel like detained on the island. It’s terrible and appears unlivable” he continued.
The island is apparently possessed by evil spirits such as Jinn (genies or demons). “These evil spirits often scare the people on the island at night. They want to offer prayers in the Mosque (used by the civil servant ad security forces) in the hope that the evil spirits will disappear if they do so. But they are accused of being Covid-19 infected and hence, denied access to”, said a Rohingya refugee in Kutupalong area.
The Bhasan Char project was backed up by China; and British and Chinese Engineers have helped prepared the island. The UN Refugee Agency says the Island located remotely in the Bay of Bengal logistically challenging. Human Right Watch (HRW) said that any relocation of refugees to the newly formed island would be a humanitarian disaster in the making. The island is prone to cyclones and frequent flooding in the monsoon and is not easily accessible.
[We have reached out to a department in the Bangladesh government relevant to Rohingya refugee affairs seeking comments on the claims made by the refugees. Once we get a reply, it will be updated here.]
[Edited by M.S. Anwar]