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Rohingya refugees sent to flood-prone Bangladesh island after months at sea

03.05.2020

After being turned away by Malaysia, at least 500 Rohingya refugees facing persecution in Myanmar have spent two months at sea. Now one boat of 29 people has been sent to an "uninhabitable" Bangladeshi island.

At least 29 Rohingya Muslim refugees from a fishing boat have landed on an island in southern Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday. The boat, which may have been floating for two months, was intercepted by a navy ship that transported the boat and the refugees to Bhasan Char island.

The refugees, including 15 women and six children, were trying to land in the city of Cox's Bazar, the head of Bangladesh's Refugee Relief Commission told Germany's DPA news agency.

"They will initially be under the naval custody at the island until the commission formally takes responsibility," said Mahbub Alam Talukder. As the head of Bangladesh's refugee strategy, he oversees over 1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees in camps in the southeastern Cox's Bazar region.

Read more: Myanmar army blocks Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to reduce military power

Rights groups say the refugees are among 500 who have spent months at sea after being repeatedly denied access to Malaysia and other countries in the region. Malaysia has closed its borders to refugees during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the Rohingya people escaping persecution in Myanmar stuck at sea.

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Is the island safe?

The island of Bhasan Char was first floated by Bangladeshi authorities as a place to house refugees in 2015. The idea was met with criticism by the UN and the Human Rights Watch.

The island has been described as "uninhabitable" by the UN in the past. Appearing from the ocean less than 20 years ago, the silt island currently has no residents. Bangladesh says they have built housing for 100,000 refugees.

This group will be the first refugees to be housed there. Food, doctors and a team of 10 policemen are on their way to look after the boatload.

Read more: Myanmar's Rohingya rebels - What you need to know

The Rohingya people have experienced ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar for decades. Rohingya refugees have been coming to Bangladesh since 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown on the Muslim group. They are not recognized as citizens of Myanmar, rendering them stateless.

ed/mm (AP, dpa)

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