The Rohingyas on the island pleaded to be allowed to return home with their relatives
Human Rights Watch has urged the Bangladesh government to allow the United Nations (UN) to visit Bhashan Char to assess its condition.
Rohingyas protesting on the island were beaten with sticks and tree branches, according to Human Rights Watch.
Naval officers allegedly beat the refugees, including children, in retribution for their hunger strike beginning on September 21, 2020 to demand reunification with their families in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, HRW said on Thursday.
The beatings occurred while the Bangladesh government reportedly formed a committee to begin relocation of 10,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, despite widespread concerns over the island’s habitability.
“In a darkly ironic attempt to portray Bhashan Char as a safe location, Bangladesh authorities beat Rohingya refugees, including children, who were protesting their detention and begging to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said.
The HRW interviewed eight refugees who went on the hunger strike.
“Navy personnel used tree branches and black rubber sticks to beat us,” one refugee said.
“They beat the protesting women and men, and even the children who were standing with their mothers,” the refugee added.
HRW examined photos that showed injuries sustained by refugees because of beatings, but was unable to find out whether they received medical care for their injuries, the report said.
The refugees went on hunger strike just days after the government organized a “go and see” visit in which 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, including community leaders and some family members of those being held on the island, were taken to Bhasan Char for three days, the report further said.
The report also said during the visit, refugees detained on the island pleaded to be allowed to return home with their relatives.
Delegation members reported concerns over conditions on the island, including inadequate medical facilities, restrictions on freedom of movement, lack of opportunities for livelihoods, and fears about safety during monsoon season.
Bangladesh government refused to allow a promised UN protection visit to the island to provide urgent services to over 300 refugees who have been detained there since they were brought ashore after months stranded at sea, the HRW report also said.
The government is pushing through a relocation process in contravention of basic rights protections despite repeated concerns raised by the UN and humanitarian experts.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was rightly celebrated for welcoming refugees from Myanmar, but her government is now holding desperate men, women, and children on Bhasan Char,” Adams said.
“If UN experts find the island to be safe and habitable, and refugees’ rights are respected, then people may freely choose to relocate there. But beating people up for seeking to reunite with their families is completely unacceptable.”
Bangladesh hosts 1.1m Rohingya
Altogether, Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar district and most of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, amid a military crackdown on Rohingyas in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.