Bangladesh has slammed an international rights group’s claim that its security forces beat Rohingya refugees held at a flood-prone island, calling them “baseless”.
Some 306 Rohingya rescued by Bangladesh after being stranded at sea for weeks were taken to Bhashan Char — a silty strip of land in the Bay of Bengal where a severe cyclone has just barrelled through — earlier this month.
Dhaka said the mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar were not sent to camps in Cox’s Bazar in the country’s southeast as authorities were afraid they might have coronavirus.
Human Rights Watch alleged in a report citing interviews with 25 Rohingya that the refugees have been subject to interrogations and beatings on the island.
“They said that those on the island are being confined in prison-like conditions without freedom of movement or adequate access to food, water, or medical care,” the New York-based group said.
“Some alleged beatings by Bangladesh security forces.”
Human Rights Watch said refugees on the island told them that “soldiers threatened and beat up male refugees, including children, while interrogating them about the smugglers who transported them”.
“Women described hearing screams from the interrogation room,” the report added.
Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen hit back at the claims and questioned why the allegations were being raised.
“They have an evil motive. Why they (Human Rights Watch) are silent about the violence in Myanmar?” he said.
“Those who are making such comments they should take them (Rohingya) to their country. If they think they are in discomfort, they should take them to their country and make them happy.”
Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister Shahriar Alam told AFP that Human Rights Watch’s reports were “baseless and ill-motivated”.
A spokesman for the navy, which is looking after the Rohingya on the island, said the refugees were being “treated very well”.
He added that no-one was hurt and there was no damage on the island from Cyclone Amphan, which smashed into Bangladesh and India on Wednesday.
UN chief Antonio Guterres last week urged Momen to shift the rescued Rohingya to Cox’s Bazar — where nearly one million Rohingya live in squalid camps, many after fleeing a 2017 military crackdown — after a coronavirus quarantine period.
Momen previously said the refugees would “most likely” have to live on Bhashan Char until they return to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.