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Rohingya: Refugees stranded at sea were brought to the controversial island after landing in Bangladesh

The 29 refugees, mostly women and children, were brought to the cyclone-threatened island of Bhashan Char – also known as Thengar Char – to protect the extensive refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar from the spread of Covid-19, the Bangladeshi naval lieutenant, Abdur Rashid told CNN.

Cox’s Bazar, home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees, has been strictly closed since early April – very limited movement is allowed inside the dirty cluster of makeshift camps.

The Bhashan Char refugees were among the hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had been caught at sea in “horrific conditions” for weeks after trying to flee to Malaysia, according to a European Union statement. The stateless ethnic minorities are not recognized as citizens by their home country, Myanmar, although they have had their roots there for centuries. Bangladesh has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled on humanitarian grounds. However, they are not granted any rights there and are restricted to refugee camps. The authorities are still investigating where the group sailed from.

According to Rashid, the group, which includes 1

9 women, five men and five children, is not affected by the virus, which has killed almost 250,000 people worldwide.

“They don’t have any corona symptoms, but exams and medical tests are ongoing,” said Rashid.

Refugee aid and repatriation commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder confirmed that 29 people were “sent to Bhashan Char by the Bangladeshi military” where they have access to medical facilities, food and water. It is not clear whether they will be returned to the mainland after a quarantine period or whether they will stay there, Talukder added.

Buildings in which members of the Rohingya refugee community are to be accommodated on the Bhashan Char mud island.

They are the first Rohingya refugees to be sent to the island. The government has been building facilities there for several years with plans to relocate thousands of people from Cox’s Bazar, although no schedule has been set.

Many of them fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to avoid violent military action that led the Hague International Court to order Myanmar to protect the Rohingya people from genocide.
The Myanmar government has denied the genocide, but has admitted that some soldiers have committed war crimes. Several attempts to bring the refugees back to Myanmar have failed, partly due to concerns among the Rohingya people that they will be attacked again. The United Nations is also concerned about the lack of access to return areas.

CNN was unable to contact the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Uninhabited low-lying island

Moving Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char is also problematic. The UN says more time is needed to assess the safety of the uninhabited low-lying island, as it is often partially submerged during the monsoon season, which is rapidly approaching.

On Monday, Myanmar’s state-owned newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar warned that a low-pressure area in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea is likely to lead to depression and heavy rain in the next few days.

“The United Nations’ longstanding position is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments are essential to assess the safety and sustainability of life in Bhasan Char before moving to the island,” said Louise Donovan of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Cox’s Bazar . “The United Nations has long been ready to continue with the on-site assessment work.”

Amnesty International reports that 800 Rohingya refugees are stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal by Friday.

The group issued an open letter calling on governments in the region to dock for humanitarian reasons.

“The COVID-19 pandemic cannot justify states’ refusal to allow Rohingya to exit,” the letter said. “Forcing refugees to stay on boats also jeopardizes their right to health and possibly their right to life.”

The European Union also urged governments in the region to “conduct a search and rescue operation and find a solution to safely disembark”.

Louise Donovan of the UNHCR said that all refugees arriving at Cox ‘Bazar would receive a “full medical examination” before being quarantined for 14 days.

“The public health needs associated with the Covid 19 pandemic and the need to protect people seeking refuge are not mutually exclusive and can be met together,” added Donovan.

Hundreds of Rohingya migrants were caught on board a boat at sea in 2015.

“It’s like Deja Vu until 2015”

The crisis could repeat a similar situation in 2015, when thousands of Rohingya refugees were stranded at sea for weeks. After all, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia allowed them to land.

“It’s like deja vu until 2015,” Yanghee Lee, the former UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said in an interview with CNN on April 28 before her term ended.

According to the UNHCR, 30 Rohingya refugees died at sea last month after a boat “ran out of food, water and fuel” during an almost two-month voyage. Almost 400 other people were rescued by Bangladeshi authorities and medically examined and quarantined upon arrival, the UNHCR added.

“The survivors include a large number of women and children. They are all in poor physical condition, many are dehydrated and malnourished and need immediate medical attention,” the UNHCR statement said. There was no evidence that anyone on board had signed Covid-19.

“I understand that there are some boats full of Rohingyas that are not allowed to enter or moor in the neighboring ASEAN countries,” said Yanghee Lee. “I really want to appeal to government leaders that there are ways to get them in and quarantine them.”

However, the ASEAN countries do not appear to be ready to accept the refugees as border restrictions are tightened to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Malaysia, which is often the target of Rohingya boats, blocked a ship’s entry on April 17 after the government closed the border to foreigners due to Covid-19. This emerges from comments by Malaysian Interior Minister Hamzah Zainudin, published by the Malaysian state news agency Bernama on Thursday.

“The Home Office would like to emphasize that the authorities will always be ready to prevent interference with their borders and territorial waters,” said Hamzah, adding that Malaysia had distributed food supplies for humanitarian reasons before escorting the boat out of the country’s waters.

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