Statement on Bhashan Char
Bhashan Char: CRDI Rejects the relocation plan
March 8, 2019, Toronto: The Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI) is deeply troubled by the Bangladeshi Government’s plan to relocate Rohingyas to a flood-prone island even amid criticisms raised by the humanitarian community and Rohingyas themselves.
Bhashan Char island is hundreds of kilometers away from where most Rohingya refugees have located near Cox’s Bazar, in the south of Bangladesh. The Island is off the coast of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal and a flat and featureless island [that] did not exist 20 years ago. Formed by sediment at the mouth of Bangladesh’s Meghna River, it emerged from the sea as one of a myriad of shifting, unstable islands, or ‘chars’.
Several key concerns have been raised regarding the plan. First, the Government of Bangladesh has not proven to outside observers that the island is livable.
In August 2018, Bill Frelick, Director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Refugee Rights Program stated that Bhashan Char is not sustainable for human habitation and could be seriously affected by rising sea levels and storm surges.
More recently, in January 2019, UN Special Rapporteur about human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, visited Bhashan Char Island with Bangladeshi officials. In the press conference following her visit to the island, Lee called 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.
CRDI finds it disturbing that plans to displace people are underway while there are no assurances that the island is safe, and a viable place to live.
Second, Rohingyas need to be sufficiently informed and consulted before any decisions are made, and relocation must not happen without their consent and free will.
CRDI is not confident that neither adequate consultation nor voluntary relocation is guaranteed and is highly doubtful that the plans are being made with the well-being of Rohingyas in mind. There would have minimal access to education and health services and negligible opportunities for livelihoods or self-sufficiency. It would unnecessarily isolate refugees.
The onus is on the Government of Bangladesh to prove that, a) the island is a better option for the Rohingya than remaining in Cox’s Bazar, and b) that their relocation is entirely voluntary.
Without these conditions, CRDI vehemently objects to the displacement plan and calls on the international community to similarly raise the alarm.
The Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative.