17 February 2017
Urgent APRRN Statement
‘Rohingya Island’ Proposal is Dangerous, Absurd and Inhumane
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a civil society network of over 300 members, expresses serious concern towards the Government of Bangladesh for its plans to relocate tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Thengar Char. This island only emerged above the sea’s surface eight years ago, and it is widely understood to be highly prone to flooding and considered by many human rights groups to be uninhabitable. Such action by the Bangladesh Government is not only irresponsible, but is also akin to sentencing this already disenfranchised and persecuted group to further misery and unnecessarily dangerous living conditions.
This proposal by the Bangladesh Government comes only months after Bangladesh border guards pushed back boats of Rohingya men, women and children who were attempting to flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Despite widespread reports of innocent civilians being subjected to extrajudicial killings, torture, mass rape, detention and forced eviction, the Government of Bangladesh did not immediately allow an open border passage for their safety.
The proposed relocation of tens of thousands of Rohingya to an uninhabitable island is in clear contravention of international human rights law to which Bangladesh is a party. Such relocation would not provide the Rohingya with freedom of movement, access to livelihoods, healthcare, adequate food and the ability to access education. APRRN urges the Bangladesh Government to immediately reconsider their proposal and instead provide this vulnerable group with unfettered and increased access to adequate humanitarian assistance and support.
On 25 January, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, Shahriar Alam, announced that relocation of the Rohingya would allow them to access ‘improved humanitarian services’. He also noted that any Rohingya found outside of the island would be arrested or forcibly sent to Thengar Char following the completion of the island camp. These two statements are contradictory and have no compassion for this persecuted group of people. The Government should not relocate and criminalise this group but rather provide them with opportunities to contribute to the host country with dignity and in safety.
APRRN acknowledges that Bangladesh has played host to more than 400,000 Rohingya for decades and that this poses a series of challenges both socially and economically. The Network also acknowledges the recent positive move to allow 69,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to enter Bangladesh and provide them with a place of safety from violence. However, this does not free Bangladesh of their obligation to provide Rohingya who have fled persecution a place of safety where they can live their lives with dignity. These new arrivals do not have access to UNHCR protection, and currently accommodated in flimsy makeshift shelters with poor access to water, sanitation, dependant on minimal humanitarian relief and health care.
APRRN makes the following call for action to the Bangladesh Government:
- Immediately cease any plans for relocation of Rohingya to Thengar Char
- Provide the Rohingya with protection, freedom of movement, adequate shelter, access to humanitarian services and means of livelihood whilst within the borders of Bangladesh
- Allow UNHCR to extend its protection mandate to unregistered refugees, in particular the 69,000 newly arrived who fled atrocities during military operations in northern Rakhine.
While APRRN statements are prepared in consultations with APRRN members, they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Julia Mayerhofer, Interim Secretary General, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
Tel: +66 (0) 2 2526654
Mobile: +66 (0) 89 1125761