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UNHCR Opposes Relocation of Rohingya Refugees to Remote Island of Bhasan Char

FILE - Rohingyas sit onboard a ship as they move to Bhasan Char island near Chattogram, Bangladesh, Dec. 4, 2020.

The United Nations refugee agency says it opposes the relocation of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladeshi authorities Friday moved more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited Bay of Bengal island vulnerable to cyclones and prone to flooding.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Babar Baloch says the United Nations was not involved in the preparation of this movement. He says it did not know the identification of the refugees and had limited information on the overall relocation operation.

He says the UNHCR is concerned that the Rohingya refugees did not have the information they needed to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char.

“We have heard reports from the camps that some refugees may feel pressured into relocating to Bhasan Char or may have changed their initial views about relocation and no longer wish to move. If so, they should be allowed to remain in the camps,” he said.

In 2017, nearly 1 million refugees fled persecution and violence in Myanmar for Cox’s Bazar where they are living in squalid and overcrowded camps.

FILE - Rohingya refugees gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2019.

Bangladesh says it wants to ease congestion in the camps and sees the recent relocation of the Rohingya as the first step in a plan to move 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char.

The U.N. is calling on the government to respect its commitment that the movements to the island would be voluntary.

Baloch says the UNHCR is troubled by images of distressed refugees during the relocation process and has conveyed its concerns to Bangladeshi authorities.

“We again emphasize that all movements as mentioned earlier to Bhasan Char must be voluntary and based upon consultations and full information regarding conditions of life on the island and the rights and services that refugees will be able to access,” he said.

Baloch says the U.N. has limited information about conditions on the island and wants the government to grant onsite visits to verify that the island is a safe and sustainable place to live. He says the refugees must have access to health, livelihood and education and be protected from natural disasters and other dangers.