Bangladesh authorities have quarantined 29 Rohingya refugees without adequate access to aid on an unstable silt island in the Bay of Bengal, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Bangladesh faces the tremendous challenge of assisting Rohingya boat people while preventing the spread of COVID-19, but sending them to a dangerously flood-prone island without adequate health care is hardly the solution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.
“Any quarantines need to ensure aid agency access and safety from storms, and a prompt return to their families on the mainland”, he insisted.
Bangladesh should not quarantine refugees at Bhasan Char until they coordinate with the UN and other agencies to ensure that proper medical and food assistance are provided, the international rights organisation said.
Once the quarantine period is over, they should immediately be taken back to reunite with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps, it says.
A representative from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told the rights agency that they are prepared “to ensure the safe quarantine of any refugees arriving by boat to Cox’s Bazar,” near where the refugee camps are located.
The Bangladeshi authorities said that they are holding the refugees, who had been adrift at sea for over two months, on Bhasan Char to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in the camps.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media on May 2, 2020, that the new arrivals were ethnic Rohingya who fled Myanmar to try to reach Malaysia.
However, Human Rights Watch interviews with families found that at least seven of those detained are registered refugees from the camps in Bangladesh.
Momen said that all future arrivals will be transferred to Bhasan Char, which experts have warned may not be fit for habitation and contains no access to humanitarian services provided by the United Nations or aid agencies.
Several trawlers, each packed with several hundred Rohingya, set out for Malaysia in March, but at least two were intercepted and turned away with a fresh supply of food and water.
On April 15, the Bangladesh coast guard received one boat with nearly 400 people, who said that as many as 100 may have died on board before the rescue. At least two other boats remain stranded at sea with an estimated 700 refugees.
Early in the morning of May 2, at least 50 Rohingya from one of the trawlers were transferred to smaller boats by smugglers after families paid ransom, and landed on the Bangladesh coast. Many of the Rohingya were able to disappear into the camps, but the authorities captured 29.
Additional Rohingya refugees are soon expected to arrive in Bangladesh.
Families told the HRW that they had paid the smugglers between 35,000 and 60,000 taka (US$400 to $700) on top of the amounts they paid for the initial journey, to ensure that their relatives returned safely ashore.
A Rohingya refugee from the Kutupalong camp said that after he paid the smugglers, his two daughters were brought from the trawler to the Bangladesh coast on May 2, but both now have been sent to Bhasan Char.
“I’m worried about my daughters who have been taken to that island,” he said. “They informed me that they’re afraid they may not be able to return. It’s really painful.”
Updated On: May 05, 2020 13:29:58