No free movement clause in UN deal for Rohingya on island

A deal for the United Nations to start work on a remote Bangladeshi island where the government has sent thousands of Rohingya refugees offers no guarantee they will be allowed to move freely to the mainland, according to a copy of the agreement.

The Bangladesh government has moved nearly 19,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a persecuted mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar, to Bhasan Char island from border camps, despite protests by refugees and opposition from rights groups, who have likened it to an island jail and said some relocations were involuntary.Refugees have called for freedom of movement between the remote and flood-prone island, several hours off the coast, and the sprawling mainland camps near the port town of Cox’s Bazar, while dozens have died in recent months attempting to flee on rickety boats.

The UN refugee agency, which had previously refused to provide humanitarian services on Bhasan Char until assessments were completed, did not respond to request for comment on why the deal, signed in early October, had not been made public or its contents.

In an October 9 statement, the agency said the agreement covered “key areas of protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for sustainable return to Myanmar in the future”.

Bangladesh government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Leaked copy of the deal

A leaked copy of the deal seen by Reuters news agency says the UN would be “permitted unhindered access” to the population and further relocations would be voluntary.

But it says any travel between the island and mainland would be on an “as needs” basis, the precise details of which would be determined between the United Nations and Bangladesh.

They can “move on and within Bhasan Char for their daily activities”, it says.

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