More than 250 Rohingya Muslim refugees who had been floating for weeks on a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal arrived Friday on an island in southern Bangladesh, officials said.
The 277 refugees were taken to Bhasan Char island after they reached Bangladesh’s coast, said Mohammed Alamgir Hossain, police superintendent in Noakhali district, where the island is located. He said the navy took them there after their boat was spotted.
The Rohingya were being guarded and would be quarantined for 14 days to protect against the coronavirus, he said.
Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said they received reports about the Rohingya being taken to the island. “We are seeking further information from the Bangladesh authorities,” she said.
Another group of 29 Rohingya reached the island on Sunday after weeks of floating at sea and failing to reach Malaysia.
Taking the refugees to Bhasan Char is an issue of concern for the UN and other international agencies. They earlier opposed a government plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya there from crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Bhasan Char was previously submerged by monsoon rains but the government said in January that it was ready to relocate the refugees there.
The navy was involved in a multimillion-dollar project in which flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques were built on the island. But so far, no refugees have agreed to voluntarily move there.
“The UN’s long-standing position is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before any relocation to the island takes place,” Ms. Donovan said. “The UN has long been prepared to proceed with on-site assessment work but has no presence on the island.”
Rights groups recently said that hundreds of Rohingya had been stranded on at least two fishing trawlers in the seas between Bangladesh and Malaysia. They reportedly attempted to reach Malaysia, but failed because of strict patrols to keep out the coronavirus.
The United Nations, the British government and Human Rights Watch recently urged Bangladesh to shelter all the refugees floating at sea, but Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen reacted sharply, saying all other nations in the Bay of Bengal region should share the responsibility of sheltering them.
Currently more than one million Rohingya refugees are living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Most fled their homes in neighbouring Myanmar after its military launched a harsh crackdown in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group in 2017. Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of committing mass rapes, killings and burning thousands of homes in the crackdown.
The Muslim Rohingya are not recognized as citizens in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and also face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
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