For years, the resettlement of the Rohingya refugees was a threat. But now, to the horror of many observers, Bangladesh’s government has taken the matter seriously: last week, around 1,600 Rohingya were resettled on the previously uninhabited island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal. The island, which was only created in the last few decades, is regularly hit by cyclones and floods. Further resettlements are to follow.
Since then, fear has swept through the refugee camps among genocide survivors already traumatized by decades of persecution in Myanmar. “Oh, my people! Where are your future and goals?” laments refugee Arfaat on Twitter.
A short time later, several of these refugees went on hunger strike. Life on Bhashan Char seemed so hopeless to them that they preferred to return to the camps on the mainland. Amnesty International reported sexual violence by security forces on the island.
On the day of the resettlement last week, images circulated on social media of sobbing refugees boarding buses under the supervision of Bangladesh’s elite RAB police unit. Mahadi Muhammad of the French NGO Action Contre la Faim tweeted, “As an aid worker, I feel shocked and sad to see these images. As a Bangladeshi, I think we could do a resettlement in a more friendly, planned and structured way.”
But not all resettled people had to be forced. Refugees tell the taz that Bangladesh promised those who left voluntarily that they would be prioritized if they returned to Myanmar. “A false promise,” explains a mullah in the camp.
“Resettlement can only happen if the decision is voluntary and based on sufficient information,” UN Refugee Commissioner Filippo Grandi said on Twitter.
The United Nations said it was not involved in the resettlement plans or the selection of people to be resettled. Neither were the refugees themselves. “No one ever asks us what we think or want,” Sawyeddullah says in frustration.(BN)
by Basit Abbasi