Cox’s Bazar, home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees, has been tightly locked up since the beginning of April – only very limited movements are permitted in slum camp groups.
Rashid said the group – which included 19 women, five men and five children – was not believed to be sick with a virus that had killed nearly 250,000 people worldwide.
“They have no symptoms of corona, but investigations and medical tests are ongoing,” Rashid said.
Bangladesh Relief and Refugee Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder confirmed that 29 people were “sent to Bhashan Char by the Bangladesh military” where they have access to medical facilities, food and water. It is unclear whether they will be returned to the mainland after quarantine, or if they will remain there, Talukder added.
They were the first Rohingya refugees sent to the island. The government has been building facilities there for several years, with plans to move thousands of people from Cox’s Bazar, even though no schedule has been set.
CNN could not contact the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry to comment.
Lowland uninhabited island
Moving Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char is also problematic. The UN says more time is needed to assess the security of this uninhabited lowland island, because it is often submerged partly during the rainy season, which is getting closer.
“The UN’s long standing position is that a comprehensive technical assessment and protection to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char is very important before relocation to the island takes place,” said Louise Donovan, from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Cox’s Bazar. “The United Nations has long been ready to continue with the assessment work in place.”
As of Friday, some 800 Rohingya refugees are believed to be stranded on ships in the Bay of Bengal, according to Amnesty International.
“The COVID-19 pandemic cannot justify the state’s refusal to allow the Rohingya to step down,” the letter said. “Forcing refugees to stay aboard also risks their right to health and potentially their right to live.”
Louise Donovan from UNHCR said that every refugee who arrived at Cox’s Bazar would be given a “complete medical examination” before being quarantined for 14 days.
“The importance of public health is related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to protect people who seek protection are not mutually exclusive and can be met together,” Donovan added.
“It’s like deja vu until 2015 ‘
“It’s like deja vu until 2015,” Yanghee Lee, a former UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said in an interview with CNN on April 28, before his term was added.
Last month, UNHCR said 30 Rohingya refugees died at sea after a ship “ran out of food, water and fuel during a nearly two-month trip at sea.” Nearly 400 others were rescued by Bangladeshi authorities and medically examined and quarantined upon their arrival, added UNHCR.
“The survivors include a large number of women and children. They are all in weak physical condition, many are dehydrated and malnourished and need immediate medical attention,” a UNHCR statement said. He added that there was no evidence that anyone on board had contracted Covid-19.
“I understand that there are some ships full of Rohingya that are not allowed to enter or dock in neighboring ASEAN countries,” Yanghee Lee said. “I really want to appeal to the leadership of each government, that there is a way to let them enter and quarantine.”
But ASEAN countries seem reluctant to accept refugees, because border restrictions are tightened to control the spread of the corona virus.
“The Interior Ministry wants to emphasize that the authorities will always be ready to prevent disruption in the border and territorial waters,” Hamzah said, adding that Malaysia was distributing food supplies on humanitarian grounds, before escorting ships out of the country’s waters.