Dhaka: Bangladesh authorities Friday said that some 280 Rohingya refugees were being ferried to an uninhabited remote island after being found adrift at sea. A Bangladesh Navy official told Efe news they spotted an overcrowded vessel carrying the refugees around 30 km south of Saint Martin’s island late Wednesday.
“We have given them some food and drink. They are being taken to Bhasan Char Island,” said the official, adding that they acted under directions of the government.
Earlier this week, the authorities reported having sent over two dozen Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited remote island after they entered the country in small boats following weeks at the sea.
These Rohingya sent to the remote island are believed to be part of a group of 500 women, men, and children, who – according to human rights organizations – were stuck in the Bay after Malaysian authorities pushed them away.
Moreover, on April 16, Bangladesh authorities rescued 396 Rohingya who were trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after 58 days at sea.
UN bodies have expressed serious concern regarding reports of refugees adrift at sea and warned against a repeat of the 2015 crisis, when thousands of migrants were stranded from overcrowded boats in international waters.
“Five years on from the 2015 ‘boat crisis’ in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, in which thousands of refugees and migrants in distress at sea were denied life-saving care and support, we are alarmed that a similar tragedy may be unfolding once more,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration and UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a joint statement Wednesday.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that boats full of vulnerable women, men and children are again adrift in the same waters, unable to come ashore, and without access to urgently needed food, water and medical assistance,” it added.
Bangladesh had earlier stressed it would not accept any more Rohingya as its priority was now to protect the refugee camp area from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Later, the government decided to take the refugees to Bhasn Char Island, where it claimed to have built 1,440 housing structures to shelter some 100,000 people, as a part of a project started in 2017 to relocate Rohingya refugees.
The island, usually hit by monsoon floods, emerged from the sea about a decade ago. It covers an area of about 40 sq.km and is accessible only by boat.
However, the government’s initial plan of relocating the Rohingya to the flood-prone island had been halted in February amid criticisms from rights groups, who asked the authorities not to replace one humanitarian crisis with another.
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.