Rohingya refugees sent to remote Bangladeshi island after weeks at sea

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Hundreds more refugees still stranded on boats after being turned away by Malaysia

Rohingya refugees believed to have spent weeks stranded on cramped boats at sea have been sent to a remote, uninhabited island by Bangladesh, while hundreds more remain adrift.

Dozens of Rohingya landed on the coast of southern Bangladesh on Saturday, an official said, with some sent to Bhasan Char, a silt island in the estuary of Bangladesh’s Meghna river.

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World news | The Guardian

Rohingya refugees believed to have spent weeks stranded on cramped boats at sea have been sent to a remote, uninhabited island by Bangladesh, while hundreds more remain adrift.

Dozens of Rohingya landed on the coast of southern Bangladesh on Saturday, an official said, with some sent to Bhasan Char, a silt island in the estuary of Bangladesh’s Meghna river.

Hundreds more refugees remain stranded on at least two trawlers between Bangladesh and Malaysia, according to rights groups, who say south-east Asian governments are using the coronavirus as an excuse to turn away refugees.

“A small boat carrying 43 people came to shore today,” the Bangladesh government official said. It is not clear how many have been sent to Bhasan Char.

Bangladesh, which hosts about 1 million Rohingya who have fled persecution in Myanmar, previously said it would house refugees to the island, which is accessible only by a three-hour boat ride. The plan has been widely opposed by Rohingya refugees, and condemned by NGOs, who warn Bhasan Char is vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges. Human rights groups say that relocating refugees would leave them isolated, with limited access to education and health services.

Yanghee Lee, who has recently stepped down as the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, previously said that it was unclear whether the island was “truly habitable”.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project monitoring group, said the refugees who landed on Saturday had probably come on a small boat from one the larger vessels still at sea, believed to be carrying hundreds of people.

On Saturday, Rohingya refugees whose relatives, including children, have been missing for weeks on the boats, pleaded with international governments to act before they perish. The refugees on board, who were fleeing desperate conditions in camps in Bangladesh, had attempted to reach Malaysia but were turned away. Two boats carrying around 500 people were last spotted off Bangladesh about a week ago. The country’s foreign minister said the country was already overburdened and would not allow the boats to dock.

Among those fearing for their loved ones is Razaul, who has lived in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since 2017, when he fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar. He told the Guardian on Friday that he believes his brother, his sister-in-law and their two children, aged six and eight, are at sea. He went to visit them in March and was told by neighbours that they had left to go to Malaysia. They have been missing for 53 days.

“I have only one message. My question to the UN and to the government of Bangladesh and others is to allow the boats to come in,” he said. “They can save their lives.”

Last month, the Bangladesh authorities rescued a ship, allowing about 400 emaciated people, mostly teenagers, to come ashore after spending two harrowing months at sea.

Passengers were starved and beaten by traffickers, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, which treated survivors. More than 70 people may have died on the boat, it has been reported, though no official death toll has been announced


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