Opposing Bangladesh government's decision to relocate Rohingya refugees to remote island Bhasan Char, three human rights groups has urged to government to halt the relocation process.
Three Humanitarian and human rights groups, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and Fortify Group, made the call to government saying the island, which emerged from the sea 20 years ago and has never been inhabited, is flood-prone and vulnerable to frequent cyclones.
The government has not allowed the United Nations to carry out a safety assessment, claimed the groups.
"The Government of Bangladesh should immediately cease the relocation of hundreds of Rohingya from refugee camps in Cox's Bazar District to Bhasan Char, an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal", Fortify Rights said.
Testimonial evidence suggests relocations may be coerced and involuntary, it said.
"Bangladesh should halt this hasty relocation process," said Ismail Wolff, Regional Director of Fortify Rights.
"Not one refugee should be moved until all human rights and humanitarian concerns have been resolved and genuine informed consent is assured," he said.
In response to the relocation of hundreds of Rohingya refugees to the Bhasan Char, Amnesty International's South Asia Campaigner, Saad Hammadi, said, "The authorities should immediately halt relocation of more refugees to Bhasan Char, return those on the island to their families and community in mainland Bangladesh, and follow due process including the full and meaningful participation of refugees in any plan for their relocation.
"The relocation of so many Rohingya refugees to a remote island, which is still off limits to everyone including rights groups and journalists without prior permission, poses grave concerns about independent human rights monitoring.
"It is crucial that the Bangladeshi authorities must let the UN, rights groups and humanitarian agencies carry out independent assessments of Bhasan Char's habitability first before taking any steps to relocate people there. No relocation plan, either to Bhasan Char or to another location, can be undertaken without the full and informed consent of the individuals involved.
"Some refugees already on the island have shared their anxiety with Amnesty International at being cut off from their families and community.
"Bangladesh and other members of the international community have a critical role not only in protecting the rights of the Rohingya people but also in ensuring their full and meaningful participation in decisions that affect them."
In another statement Human Rights Watch said that The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhasan Char island.
The Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees and freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the United Nations' call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.
"The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments."
The United Nations has said Rohingyas must be able to make a free and informed decision on relocation to Bhasan Char based upon relevant, accurate and updated information.
"The United Nations has not been involved in preparations for this movement or the identification of refugees and has limited information on the overall relocation exercise," said the UN on Wednesday highlighting its longstanding position.
The United Nations has also emphasised that refugees who choose to move to Bhasan Char should have basic rights and services on the island, which would include effective freedom of movement to and from the mainland, as well as access to education, health care, and livelihood opportunities.
The process to relocate the Rohingyas to Bhasan Char from overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar has begun from today as part of the government's plan to shift them to the island.
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them have entered the country since August 25, 2017.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar inked a document on "Physical Arrangement", which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland. But no Rohingya has been repatriated so far.