Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation

Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation
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Images of the facilities set up by the Bangladesh navy on the Bhasan Char island. (Supplied)
Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation
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Images of the facilities set up by the Bangladesh navy on the Bhasan Char island. (Supplied)
Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation
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Images of the facilities set up by the Bangladesh navy on the Bhasan Char island. (Supplied)
Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation
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Images of the facilities set up by the Bangladesh navy on the Bhasan Char island. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 July 2020

Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation

Dhaka looks the other way as rights groups push for Rohingya relocation
  • Accuse Bangladesh of delaying refugee access to aid on “flood-prone” Bhasan Char Island during pandemic

DHAKA: Bangladesh has yet to decide on the relocation of more than 300 Rohingya refugees, including children, from Bhasan Char Island to the camps in Cox’s Bazar district, more than two months after they were quarantined there amid the nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

“As of today, there is no decision to relocate the Rohingya to the mainland refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingya are (being) taken care of by the Bangladesh Navy, and everything is going well over there,” Shah Rejoan Hayat, joint secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MDMR), said.

The Rohingya were rescued by the Bangladesh Navy on May 2 and sent to Bhasan Char after being stranded at sea for weeks following Malaysia’s decision to deny them entry due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Bangladesh to move the Rohingya from the “flood-prone island” in the Bay of Bengal, accusing officials of using the pandemic to “detain refugees” on Bhasan Char, which it says is extremely vulnerable to monsoon storms. 

“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” HRW said in a statement released on Thursday. 

It added that the Bangladeshi government was “inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”

According to HRW, the quarantined refugees “do not have access to food, clean drinking water or medical care,” while others have allegedly been “beaten up and mistreated by the authorities,” the statement said.

However, Bangladeshi authorities have rejected HRW’s claims, reasoning that the 308 refugees were sent to the island because authorities were afraid they might have contracted COVID-19.

“These Rohingya were denied access by Malaysia, Thailand and driven out from Myanmar. Bangladesh was kind enough to accept them on humanitarian grounds. So Bangladesh doesn’t deserve any criticism in this regard, it might be applicable for some other countries,” Mohammad Shamsuddoza, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News.

Hayat said HRW’s concerns were unfounded because Bhasan Char, an artificial island completed in 2006, had been constructed to be protective. 

“The Bangladesh Navy has a forward base over there and enough protective measures to ensure the safety of inhabitants on the island,” Hayat, who is also the chief of the MDMR’s refugee wing, said.

He added that to safeguard Bhasan Char from tidal floods and natural disasters, the navy had built a 13 kilometer long and 3 x 37 meter dam on the island, which also has 120 cluster villages for nearly 100,000 refugees.

Each Bhasan Char house has concrete rooms measuring 2 x 2.5 meters, with small windows and a toilet, for 11 people. The current ratio in Cox’s Bazar camps stands at 1 house to 22 people, with around 1.5 million refugees living there.  

Additional measures include 120 cyclone shelters that are constructed 4 feet above land, with a “full-fledged medical unit and enough food supplies” available for the refugees on the island, a source from the Bangladesh Navy’s headquarters told Arab News, requesting anonymity.

“The lives of the inhabitants on the island are completely safe during any tidal floods and cyclone. Around 200 of our members are stationed on the island including ten officers,” he added.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it was waiting for the government’s approval for a visit to Bhasan Char to “assess the immediate humanitarian situation and specific needs” on the island.

“Terms of reference have been shared with the government, and we are continuing to await feedback. Several months have passed since the refugees were transferred to Bhasan Char, and it is now urgent for the UN to have access to them,” Louise Donovan, UNHCR spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News on Sunday.

Donovan added that the impending monsoon season could pose a higher risk.

“With the onset of monsoon and cyclone seasons, the UNHCR is concerned for the safety of all people living in low lying coastal areas of India and Bangladesh, including on islands such as Bhasan Char, as well as those Rohingya refugees who may remain on boats at sea,” Donovan added.

Bangladesh has spent around $300 million to make the island habitable for 100,000 Rohingya in a bid to decongest overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, to accommodate refugees fleeing persecution. Most fled from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State following a brutal military crackdown.

A plan to relocate the first batch of Rohingya was postponed last November after the UN raised questions about the safety measures and living conditions on the island.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all of them have been denied citizenship for decades, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 33 min 39 sec ago

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.