HARIDWAR, India — The police officer arrived at the Hindu temple here with a warning to the monks: Don’t repeat your hate speech.
Ten days earlier, before a packed audience and thousands watching online, the monks had called for violence against the country’s minority Muslims. Their speeches, in one of India’s holiest cities, promoted a genocidal campaign to “kill two million of them” and urged an ethnic cleansing of the kind that targeted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
When videos of the event provoked national outrage, the police came. The saffron-clad preachers questioned whether the officer could be objective.
Yati Narsinghanand, the event’s firebrand organizer known for his violent rhetoric, assuaged their concerns.
warned that “inciting people against each other is a crime against the nation” without making a specific reference to Haridwar. Junior members of Mr. Modi’s party attended the event, and the monks have often posted pictures with senior leaders.
“You have persons giving hate speech, actually calling for genocide of an entire group, and we find reluctance of the authorities to book these people,” Rohinton Fali Nariman, a recently retired Indian Supreme Court judge, said in a public lecture.“Unfortunately, the other higher echelons of the ruling party are not only being silent on hate speech, but almost endorsing it.”
increasingly emboldened vigilante groups.
Vigilantes have beaten people accused of disrespecting cows, considered holy by some Hindus; dragged couples out of trains, cafes and homes on suspicion that Hindu women might be seduced by Muslim men; and barged into religious gatherings where they suspect people are being converted.
Myanmar was an example of how the easy dissemination of misinformation and hate speech on social media prepares the ground for violence. The difference in India, he said, is that it would be the mobs taking action instead of the military.
“You have to stop it now,” he said, “because once the mobs take over it could really turn deadly.”
The Dasna Devi temple in Uttar Pradesh state, where Mr. Narsinghanand is the chief priest, is peppered with signs that call to prepare for a “dharm yudh,” or religious war. One calls on “Hindus, my lions” to value their weapons “just the way dedicated wives value their husbands.”
The temple’s main sign prohibits Muslims from entering.
vast network of volunteers to mobilize voters and secure victories.
When he was chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi saw firsthand how unchecked communal tensions could turn into bloodletting.
In 2002, a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. Although the cause was disputed, violent mobs, in response, targeted the Muslim community, leaving more than 1,000 people dead, many burned alive.
Rights organizations and opposition leaders accused Mr. Modi of looking the other way. He rejected the allegations as political attacks.
took an oath to turn India into a Hindu state, even if it meantkilling for it.
The police arrested Mr. Narsinghanand on Jan. 15, and he was charged in court with hate speech.
“He said nothing wrong,” said Swami Amritanand, an organizer of the Haridwar event. “We are doing what America is doing, we are doing what Britain is doing.”
Mr. Amritanand said the call for arms was justified because “within the next 10 to 12 years there will be a horrible war that will play out in India.”
Late last month, the monks again sounded a violent call to create a Hindu state, this time at an event hundreds of miles away from Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh. They threatened violence — referencing a bombing of India’s assembly — if Mr. Narsinghanand was not released.
Ms. Pandey described their actions as defensive. “We must prepare to protect ourselves,” she said.
To the Haridwar police, the event in Uttar Pradesh did not count as a repeat offense. Rakendra Singh Kathait, the senior police officer in Haridwar, said Mr. Narsinghanand was in jail because he had acted again in the city; others like Ms. Pandey got a warning.
“If she goes and says it from Kolkata, it doesn’t count as repeat here,” Mr. Kathait said.
Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
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WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday issued a business advisory for Myanmar, warning of heightened risks associated with doing business in the country especially when the military is involved, nearly a year after a the army took power in a coup.
The advisory warned that businesses should be wary of illicit finance risks as well as reputational and legal risks of doing business and utlizing supply chains under Myanmar military control.
“The coup and subsequent abuses committed by the military have fundamentally changed the direction of the economic and business environment in Burma,” the advisory said.
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Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1 last year, after complaining of fraud in a November 2020 general election won by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud. read more
The junta has been fighting on multiple fronts since seizing power, cracking down with deadly force on protests while intensifying operations against ethnic minority armies and newly formed militias allied with the ousted government.
“The return of military rule in Burma brings with it high levels of public corruption and a deficient anti-money laundering regime,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.
The advisory cited state-owned enterprises, gems and precious metals, real estate and construction projects and arms, military equipment and related activity as entities and sectors of greatest concern in the country, adding that they have been identified as providing economic resources for the junta.
The advisory said state-owned enterprises, including Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and Myanma Timber Enterprise, played a large role in the country’s economy and generate about half of the junta’s revenue.
The advisory comes after oil majors TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N), partners in a major gas project in Myanmar, said last week they were withdrawing from the country, citing the worsening humanitarian situation following the coup. read more
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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Alex Richardson
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
The family’s initial fortune came from jute, a natural fiber that is used to make rope and twine. The jute mill was nationalized during the military’s disastrous venture into socialism, after its first coup in 1962.
Burma, once lauded for its fine schools and polyglot cosmopolitanism, sank into penury. The ruling junta renamed the country Myanmar.
Mr. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung’s father was sent to Northern Ireland, where he escaped Myanmar’s privations. His siblings scattered to Thailand, Singapore, the United States and Britain. The family’s graceful villa in Yangon moldered, as did the rest of the country.
But even as many of them headed abroad, the family remained connected to Myanmar and traveled there to do business. Their path back was eased by the extended family tree, which included high-ranking Tatmadaw officers, cabinet ministers and confidants of junta chiefs.
A cousin married U Zeyar Aung, an urbane, English-speaking general who led the Northern Command and the 88th Light Infantry Division, both of which the United Nations has tied to decades of war crimes against Myanmar’s own people. He later was the railway minister, then the energy minister and subsequently led the national investment commission, over the time the Kyaw Thaungs were vying for military contracts.
Myanmar’s patronage networks are a tangle of roots that bind family trees. Generals’ children tend to marry within tight circles, perhaps to other military progeny or the offspring of business cronies.
As the Tatmadaw began loosening control over the economy, engaging in a fire sale of assets that had once been the military’s fief, that elite class of the well-connected swooped in to profit. Mr. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung, whose mother is Irish, returned to Myanmar, along with siblings and cousins who had also been raised overseas.
A court in Myanmar on Monday sentenced Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted civilian leader, to four years on charges of inciting public unrest and breaching Covid-19 protocols. She is facing a series of rulings that could keep her locked up for the rest of her life.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in a military coup in February,had been facing a maximum imprisonment of 102 years on a total of 11 charges.
Her trials, which the United Nations and foreign governments have described as politically motivated, have been held in closed-door hearings in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital. The junta has barred all five of her lawyers from speaking to the news media, saying that their communications could “destabilize the country.”
“This ridiculous ruling is a travesty of justice,” Charles Santiago, a Malaysian legislator and chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.
Mr. Santiago said the sentencing was further evidence that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “must hold the line against this illegal takeover” by the junta.
Prosecutors have continued to slap more charges on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as her case proceeded. The verdicts rendered on Monday are the first of several that are expected to be announced in the coming months.
The charge of breaching Covid-19 protocols stems from an episode during the 2020 election campaign in which Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi stood outside, in a face mask and face shield, and waved to supporters passing by in vehicles.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, is a flawed hero for a troubled nation.
She is held up as an almost godlike figure among her supporters in Myanmar, who describe her as a defender of the country’s democracy — a struggle for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize. But her reputation on the international stage was tarnished over her complicity in the military’s mass atrocities against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group.
The guilty verdict is likely to galvanize a protest movement that has spurred thousands of people to take up arms against the army since February, when the generals seized power.
On Sunday morning, a military truck plowed into a group of protesters who were carrying banners bearing her portrait and quotations of hers on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s most populous city, causing fatalities. At night, protesters continued to demonstrate in the streets, and residents banged pots and pans to register their anger.
In the months since the coup, people have gathered in the streets, doctors and nurses have stopped work in protest, and many have refused to pay taxes in a campaign known as the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Despite the threat of arrest, there is still widespread support for the movement. A growing number of soldiers are defecting, teaming up with armed protesters and insurgent groups to launch hit-and-run attacks against the military.
The junta has responded by cracking down — it has killed more than 1,300 people and arrested more than 10,600 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a rights organization based in Thailand.
For many of her supporters, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as the only politician who could lead Myanmar toward full democracy.
After a previous coup, in 1962, the military ruled the country for half a century. When Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was elected in 2015, she was forced to share power with the army, which appointed 25 percent of Parliament. In November 2020, she led her party to a landslide election victory, trouncing the military-backed opposition party.
She has not been seen in public or been able to speak to anyone aside from her lawyers since she was detained on Feb. 1. Just hours before she and her colleagues from the National League of Democracy Party were to take their seats in Parliament, military officers detained them, accusing them of voter fraud. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the charge.
Rights activists have condemned the charge of incitement, saying that it is used to intimidate critics of the military. It carries a maximum sentence of three years and states that anyone who “publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report” with “intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public” could be found liable.
RUKLA, Lithuania — The emigrants hitchhiked overnight to the Dysna River, the border of their native Belarus. They thought they could wade across the frigid waters, but the spot they chose in haste proved to be so deep they had to swim.
On the other side, at dawn two weeks ago, they found a house with a light on and asked for the police. They were fleeing the authoritarian regime of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and seeking asylum in neighboring Lithuania, a member of the European Union. Taken to a makeshift camp at a border guard station, they joined about a dozen Iraqis, some Chechens and someone from Southeast Asia.
“We’ve been here for weeks, months,” a migrant told them, according to one of the Belarusians, Aleksandr Dobriyanik. “We know you’ll leave here in just a couple days.”
uprising against Mr. Lukashenko’s fraudulent 2020 re-election sparked a crackdown in which anyone who sympathized with the opposition is a potential target. It has approved 71asylum requests from Belarusians this year. The U.S. State Department commended the country last week for “offering safe haven to many Belarusian democracy advocates,” including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader.
clashes with Polish police have made worldwide headlines.
Amid the crush of migration, the paths of Belarusians and other migrants intersect at holding facilities across Lithuania. At one migrant camp, a Syrian barber explained to his Belarusian tentmate that his family spent their life savings to get to Europe and now had “no way back.” Mr. Dobriyanik met men fleeing their native Chechnya region of Russia, who railed against President Vladimir V. Putin.
Lithuania, with a population of less than three million, has struggled to manage the thousands of new arrivals, and this month the government declared a state of emergency. Lithuanian leaders have called the migrants a “hybrid weapon” wielded by Mr. Lukashenko to “attack the democratic world.”
indefinite military service in Eritrea, then flew to Belarus as civil war flared in Ethiopia. The woman, who did not want her name used because she feared for her family in Eritrea, stayed in Belarus for months until she found a way to enter Lithuania.
“We came running from a dictator government,” she said, “and we were stuck in a dictator government.”
At night in the refugee camps, with only a thin tarpaulin wall as protection, Mohammed waits for the men to come and kill him.
In less than a month, assassins have killed at least eight people in the Rohingya refugee settlements of southeastern Bangladesh, silencing those who have dared to speak out against the violent gangs that plague the camps. As with Mr. Mohammed, the militants threatened their victims before they killed, leaving their targets in a perpetual panic.
“I am living under the knife of a fearful and depressing life,” said Mr. Mohammed, a community organizer whose full name is not being used because of the documented risks he faces. “I came to Bangladesh from Myanmar because I would be killed there. Here, also, there are no guarantees for a safe life.”
In the world’s largest single refugee encampment, life is becoming unlivable. Already, Rohingya Muslims had to flee ethnic cleansing in their native Myanmar, ending up in a sprawl of shelters that ranks among the most tightly packed places on earth. Now, among the warrens of tents clinging to denuded hills, militants search for recruits, drug traffickers roam and kidnappers prey on women and children.
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA.
Mohib Ullah, a fellow Rohingya community leader, was killed by gunmen in late September. His fear intensified after seven men associated with an Islamic school that had stood up to ARSA militants were shot and stabbed to death.
Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal that human rights groups have called a floating prison. ARSA has less sway there.
In October, U.N.H.C.R. and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for 80,000 or so Rohingya to be transferred to Bhasan Char, on top of the 20,000 who have already been moved there.
Among the first to be resettled on Bhasan Char were Rohingya Christians, a persecuted minority within a persecuted minority. Rohingya Christians in the camps have been kidnapped, police reports have documented.
Last October, one of the Christian families, since relocated to the island, sought protection from the United Nations after ARSA militants threatened them with abduction.
The family was given refuge for one night in a U.N.H.C.R. safehouse near the camps but was ordered to leave the next day by Bangladeshi staff, two family members said. With nowhere to go, a relative, Abdu Taleb, helped them on a bus to escape the ARSA militants who were menacing outside.
The escape plan failed, according to a police report filed shortly after the incident. The militants boarded the bus and abducted Mr. Taleb and the family. Mr. Taleb and the male head of the family were held in a dark place for nearly four months, where he said the militants tortured them, pulling out one of his teeth.
From Bhasan Char, where he now lives in a barrack surrounded by the sea, Mr. Taleb said he was finally at peace.
“I came in search of safety,” Mr. Taleb said. “I found security.”
The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili is small, remote and largely unknown internationally. It is also, when it comes to the coronavirus, perhaps the most tightly regulated place on earth.
In the past year, it has been locked down four times, with one shutdown lasting 26 days. Homes in an entire district have been evacuated indefinitely to create a “buffer zone” against cases from elsewhere. Schools have been closed for months, except for a few grades — but only if those students and their teachers do not leave campus.
Many residents, including 59-year-old Liu Bin, have gone months without income, in a city that relies heavily upon tourism and trade with neighboring Myanmar. Mr. Liu, who ran a customs brokerage before cross-border movement essentially stopped, estimated he had lost more than $150,000. He is tested on a near-daily basis. He borrows cigarette money from his son-in-law.
“Why do I have to be oppressed like this? My life is important too,” he said. “I’ve actively followed epidemic control measures. What else do we normal people have to do to meet the standards?”
remained the last country chasing full elimination, for the most part with success. It has recorded fewer than 5,000 virus-related deaths, and in parts of the country without confirmed cases, the outbreak can feel like a hazy memory.
But the residents of Ruili — a lush, subtropical city of about 270,000 people before the pandemic — are facing the extreme and harsh reality of living under a “Zero Covid” policy when even a single case is found.
live on campus. Classrooms have been converted to dorms. Since students are always around, they also have classes on weekends.
told state media he had taken 90 Covid tests over the last seven months. Another parent said that his one-year-old son had been tested 74 times.
Tens of thousands of residents have fled the city for elsewhere in China in the breaks between lockdowns; officials recently acknowledged that the population had dropped to about 200,000. To control the outflow, the authorities now require people to pay for up to 21 days of pre-departure quarantine.
In a sign of the desperation many residents are feeling, a former deputy mayor of Ruili last month wrote a blog post called “Ruili Needs the Motherland’s Care” — a stunning move in a country where officials almost never deviate from the government line.
“Every time the city is locked down is another instance of serious emotional and material loss,” wrote the official, Dai Rongli. “Each experience battling the virus is a new accumulation of grievances.”
according to state media. No cases have been traced to people leaving Ruili for elsewhere in China.
Even so, officials insist that there is little room for adjustment.
“If Ruili’s epidemic does not reach zero, there will be risk of outward transmission,” Ruili’s deputy mayor, Yang Mou, said at a news conference on Oct. 29.
Shanghai’s Disneyland spent hours waiting to be tested on Sunday night before they could leave the park. Parts of Beijing are locked down, and many incoming trains and flights have been canceled.
announced that all traffic lights would be turned red, to prevent unnecessary travel. (It later backtracked.)
Ruili is uniquely vulnerable to both the virus and the burdens of lockdown.
Nestled in the corner of Yunnan Province, it shares more than 100 miles of borders with Myanmar, attracting tourists and traders. In 2019, people passed through its border checkpoint nearly 17 million times, according to official statistics.
When China sealed up the country, trade and tourism all but collapsed. Yet Ruili’s borders remained porous, raising fears of imported cases. And the military coup in Myanmar this year has led some to seek refuge in Ruili, legally or illegally. Some residents have had to dodge stray bullets from the conflict across the border, according to Chinese media reports.
banned residents from livestreaming about the local jade industry to limit gem orders and the movement of delivery people.
told state media that “at the moment, we do not need” additional help. The day before, he had warned against “criminals” who he said would use “public opinion and false information to disrupt social order.”
have admonished people for protesting lockdown conditions.)
Earlier this year, Mr. Li and a group of fellow investors pooled together about $3 million for a jade market in Ruili, which they had hoped to open in May. Instead, the premises have sat empty, though they have continued to pay rent. He has heard nothing about government assistance.
Originally, his company employed about 50 people. Now? “We only dare to keep one person, to guard the door,” he said. “What can you do? We can’t pay them.”
The cost of daily living has shot up. A kilogram of bok choy used to cost less than 6 renminbi, or under $1, Mr. Li said; now the price has jumped to 8 or 10 renminbi.
“The ordinary people,” he sighed, “have no way to live.”
On Feb. 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to experience the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.
For the next three weeks, the account operated by a simple rule: Follow all the recommendations generated by Facebook’s algorithms to join groups, watch videos and explore new pages on the site.
The result was an inundation of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report published later that month.
bots and fake accounts tied to the country’s ruling party and opposition figures were wreaking havoc on national elections. They also detail how a plan championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to focus on “meaningful social interactions,” or exchanges between friends and family, was leading to more misinformation in India, particularly during the pandemic.
a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it implemented a special policy to remove praise and support of violence in the country, and later banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.
In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to violence-inducing and hateful content. In Ethiopia, a nationalist youth militia group successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inflammatory content.
Facebook has invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Mr. Stone said. He added that Facebook reduced the amount of hate speech that people see globally by half this year.
suicide bombing in the disputed border region of Kashmir set off a round of violence and a spike in accusations, misinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.
After the attack, anti-Pakistan content began to circulate in the Facebook-recommended groups that the researcher had joined. Many of the groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. A different report by Facebook, published in December 2019, found Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s median group size at 140,000 members.
Graphic posts, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated in the groups she joined.
After the researcher shared her case study with co-workers, her colleagues commented on the posted report that they were concerned about misinformation about the upcoming elections in India.
Two months later, after India’s national elections had begun, Facebook put in place a series of steps to stem the flow of misinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document called Indian Election Case Study.
The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including adding more fact-checking partners — the third-party network of outlets with which Facebook works to outsource fact-checking — and increasing the amount of misinformation it removed. It also noted how Facebook had created a “political white list to limit P.R. risk,” essentially a list of politicians who received a special exemption from fact-checking.
The study did not note the immense problem the company faced with bots in India, nor issues like voter suppression. During the election, Facebook saw a spike in bots — or fake accounts — linked to various political groups, as well as efforts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.
In a separate report produced after the elections, Facebook found that over 40 percent of top views, or impressions, in the Indian state of West Bengal were “fake/inauthentic.” One inauthentic account had amassed more than 30 million impressions.
A report published in March 2021 showed that many of the problems cited during the 2019 elections persisted.
In the internal document, called Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study, Facebook researchers wrote that there were groups and pages “replete with inflammatory and misleading anti-Muslim content” on Facebook.
The report said there were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to “pigs” and “dogs,” and misinformation claiming that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, calls for men to rape their female family members.
Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing and nationalist group with close ties to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. The groups took issue with an expanding Muslim minority population in West Bengal and near the Pakistani border, and published posts on Facebook calling for the ouster of Muslim populations from India and promoting a Muslim population control law.
Facebook knew that such harmful posts proliferated on its platform, the report indicated, and it needed to improve its “classifiers,” which are automated systems that can detect and remove posts containing violent and inciting language. Facebook also hesitated to designate R.S.S. as a dangerous organization because of “political sensitivities” that could affect the social network’s operation in the country.
Of India’s 22 officially recognized languages, Facebook said it has trained its A.I. systems on five. (It said it had human reviewers for some others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, it still did not have enough data to adequately police the content, and much of the content targeting Muslims “is never flagged or actioned,” the Facebook report said.
Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to efficiently remove hate speech against Muslims. Another company report detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group linked with the B.J.P., to publish posts containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.
Facebook is considering designating the group as a dangerous organization because it is “inciting religious violence” on the platform, the document showed. But it has not yet done so.
“Join the group and help to run the group; increase the number of members of the group, friends,” said one post seeking recruits on Facebook to spread Bajrang Dal’s messages. “Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed.”
Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac contributed reporting.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.
One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.
Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.
So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.
“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”
worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.
The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.
The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.
“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”
Some simply want to see their families again.
Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.
Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.
“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”
Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.
“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”
But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.
“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”
The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.
He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.
During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.
The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.
He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.
“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”
TORKHAM, Pakistan — The Taliban, thankfully, didn’t figure out Mohammad was a police officer.
Mohammad, 55, had worked for years in Laghman Province east of Kabul, where chasing militants was part of the job. Then the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. They killed his boss. Mohammad figured he and his family were next.
“We left Afghanistan mainly to protect our lives,” said Mohammad, who insisted on being identified only by his first name to protect his extended family from reprisals. On Aug. 16, he, his wife and their five children reached Spin Boldak, a town on the Afghanistan side of the border, before crossing to Chaman on the Pakistan side. To get there, they navigated watchful Taliban and paid Pakistan security forces $900 in bribes.
“On the highway, Taliban fighters were stopping and searching travelers,” said Mohammad. “But, luckily, they did not recognize me because, maybe, I was a low-ranked cop.”
The Pakistan authorities are watching worriedly to see whether more refugees like Mohammad and his family come pouring over the border. The government is expecting as many as 700,000 at a potential cost of $2.2 billion as the authorities set up camps and ways to track and feed them.
the United Nations, though experts say hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live there, too.
The migration issue has at times added tension along the border. Already, on Wednesday Pakistan’s military fired artillery rounds over the border, citing firing from Afghanistan that killed five soldiers — the latest in long-running hostilities as Pakistan forces target suspected insurgents hiding on the other side.
Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief, listed terrorism and refugees among Pakistan’s top concerns at a meeting with Taliban leaders in Kabul over the weekend, according to Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani information minister.
1,600-mile border fence in recent years.
At Torkham, the dusty border crossing about 140 miles east of Kabul, the Pakistani authorities appeared to be keeping the flow of refugees under strict control. Only small groups of people crossed the border, where only Pakistan citizens and Afghans with visas are allowed to cross. Hundreds of empty container trucks sat idle on the Pakistan side, evidence of a sharp drop in trade because of the war.
raided by law enforcement, with young men rounded up, detained or beaten en masse, rights groups say.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
“Harassment and exploitation on the part of law enforcement agencies is a product of underlying perceptions of Afghans as violent, dangerous and suspicious,” said Zoha Waseem, a sociology professor at the University of Warwick and an expert on policing. “Refugees are therefore viewed with suspicion and seen as an alleged threat to the security of the nation-state. This makes an entire community, including refugee children, at risk of state harassment.”
Human Rights Watch. The group warned that the move risked adding to a population of hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan rendered essentially homeless by poverty and conflict.
The Taliban’s vengeful ways add to the risks. While the country’s new leaders have tried to strike a moderate tone, reports of reprisals against former members of the security forces and other Taliban opponents have trickled out of the country.
“I have no plans to go back to the Taliban’s Afghanistan,” said Khan, once a journalist in Kabul. He wanted to be identified only by his surname to protect his wife and two children, who remain in the Afghan capital.
Anticipating a Taliban victory by October, Khan had planned to get passports for his wife and two children to move to Pakistan. Kabul’s sudden fall last month spoiled those plans.
“Taliban has a list of journalists who were critical of the movement in their reporting,” said Mr. Khan, who had a visa to enter Pakistan, “and I am sure I am among them.”
In Camp Jadeed, a makeshift home for Afghan refugees on Karachi’s outskirts, residents said they had no plans to go back despite the temporary nature of their surroundings.
“With Taliban’s recapturing, a new era of uncertainty and fear starts in Afghanistan,” said Jan Ali, an Afghan in his 60s who arrived in Pakistan in 1980 and makes a living selling secondhand carpets.
He has seen arrivals from decades of conflict. “But the only good thing, this time,” he said, “is that bloodshed was avoided to gain Kabul’s throne.”
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.