The Stream

Bangladesh: Is Bhasan Char a ‘prison island’ for the Rohingya?

On Tuesday, June 15 at 19:30GMT:
Concerns are mounting about the fate of some 20,000 Rohingya refugees who have been relocated to a remote island 60km (37.5 miles) off the coast of Bangladesh in recent months.

In Bhasan Char, these migrants face food shortages, inadequate healthcare, informal education, and few employment options, Human Rights Watch said in a new report. Many people who have tried to leave have been stopped by security forces. Additionally, as monsoon season begins, the silt island faces high winds and flooding risks. Bangladesh government officials however say the island has brought “hope and prosperity” to the refugees.

The Rohingya are a majority-Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Myanmar for generations, but deadly military crackdowns in 2016 and 2017 spurred many to flee to neighboring nations.

Bangladesh continues to host the majority of the refugees – some 1 million Rohingya – in and around camps at Cox’s Bazaar, the world’s largest refugee camp. To help ease crowding there, government officials aim to move 100,000 refugees from the mainland into the $350 million Bhasan Char development. But advocates are urging authorities to reassess this strategy.

“Putting unwilling refugees on a remote, low-lying island where cyclones are common is a bad idea,” said Bill Frelick, HRW’s refugee and migrant rights director. “Rohingya refugees who have lost and suffered so much need to be treated with dignity and respect for their safety and well-being and be allowed to make informed, voluntary choices about their living conditions until long-term solutions can be found.”

However, as the refugee crisis enters its fourth year, Myanmar has not taken any steps to repatriate the Rohingya, and conditions remain unsafe for their return. Bangladesh has grown frustrated by its refugee population, and a lack of help from Malaysia, Thailand, and India, who have all tried to return refugees that turn up at their coasts or borders.

In this episode of The Stream we ask, should Bangladesh stop sending Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char? Join the conversation.

On this episode we speak with:

Wai Wai Nu, @waiwainu
Executive Director & Founder, Women’s Peace Network

Nadia Hardman, @Nadia_Hardman
Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Tanvir Chowdhury, @tanvirbengal
Reporter/Producer, Al Jazeera English