Don’t rush to relocate Rohingyas to Bhashan Char: UN expert Lee to Bangladesh

A UN human rights expert on Rohingya refugees has warned Bangladesh against rushing to relocate them from Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char island until a framework for their protection has been agreed.

Published : 25 Jan 2019, 04:36 PM
Updated : 25 Jan 2019, 06:05 PM

But the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, commended the government for “tremendous effort and resources” into developing the island for Rohingyas.

“There should be no rush to relocate refugees, such as before the monsoon season which is one of the possibilities that has been outlined to me,” she said.

“It goes without saying that no relocation should even be contemplated until a framework to protect any refugees who do relocate is agreed upon,” Lee said at a press briefing before leaving Dhaka on Friday ending a 10-day visit.

“If any plans are made about refugee relocation to Bhashan Char in the future, refugees must be fully engaged and participate in the process, including through meaningful consultation which should involve go-and-see visits for refugees so that they can determine for themselves whether they wish to move.

“Without individual fully informed consent, the plans cannot move forward,” she said.

Lee has visited Bhashan Char and thanked the government for letting her do so.


Bangladesh has given shelter to over 1.1 million Rohingya people who have fled violent repression in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to save their lives.

The government plans to relocate some of them to Bhashan Char which is being developed by Bangladesh Navy to make some space in Cox’s Bazar’s crowded camps.

Lee, an independent expert, travelled by helicopter, and had an aerial view of the development, the island and its surrounds.

“It was clear to me that the government has put tremendous effort and resources into the construction of the buildings and embankment,” she said.

She said she was not a technical expert on construction or housing “so I will not make any comment about the buildings or physical infrastructure”.

“However, I call on the government to share feasibility studies it has undertaken and to allow the UN to carry out a full technical and humanitarian assessment, including a security assessment, before making any further plans for the housing of people on the island,” the UN rapporteur said.

“To date, there have been no discussions with the humanitarian community on the framework for the island.”

“The government has told me that any refugees who choose to live on Bhashan Char would essentially have access to the same basic rights as those who live in Cox’s Bazar.

“Children will be able to have primary level education, there will be health facilities, livelihood opportunities including fishing and farming, and freedom of movement on the island.

A view of the Thengar Char island in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, February 2, 2017. Reuters

Lee said she was “told that refugees would be allowed to visit family and friends in the Cox’s Bazar camps, but that they would not be able to travel to other parts of Bangladesh”.

“Similarly to my concerns about the situation in the Cox’s Bazar camps, I am anxious about whether these conditions are adequate to fulfil the needs and rights of Rohingya refugees, particularly in the medium and longer term.

“The island’s isolation does particularly trouble me, especially in the event of cyclones or other natural disasters.

“It is imperative that any measures to relocate the refugees enhance their enjoyment of rights and do not create a new crisis,” she said.

The UN expert urged “caution and patience” by the Bangladesh government and full cooperation with the UN and the international community.

The causes of the current Rohingya situation, in her words, lie in Myanmar and it is to Myanmar “that we must look for the solution”.

“Its campaign of violence against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya, the Kayin, the Kachin and the Shan, must end.

“Real steps must be taken to implement the recommendations of the UN and the Kofi Annan Commission, including by ensuring that the citizenship of the Rohingya is realised.

“There must be accountability for the campaign of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide against the Rohingya, as well as the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against ethnic minorities around the country,” she said.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher