Bangladesh to move hundreds of Rohingya Muslims to remote island amid criticism

Rohingya refugees sit on wooden benches of a navy vessel on their way to the Bhasan Char island in Noakhali district, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh will move 2,000-3,000 more Rohingya Muslim refugees to a remote Bay of Bengal island this week, a navy officer said on Wednesday, despite complaints by rights groups concerned about the site’s vulnerability to storms and flooding.

Bangladesh has relocated about 3,500 of the refugees from neighbouring Myanmar to Bhasan Char island since early December from border camps where a million live in ramshackle huts perched on razed hills.

Bhasan Char emerged from the sea only two decades ago and is several hours by boat from the nearest port at Chittagong. The Rohingya, a minority group who fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are not allowed to move off the island without government permission.

“Most probably, they will be taken to Chittagong tomorrow and the next day, they will be sent to Bhasan Char from there,” Navy Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury said.

“Last time, we had preparations for 700 to 1,000 but finally more than 1,800 Rohingya moved there. People who moved earlier are calling their relatives and friends to go there. That’s why more people are going there.”

Bangladesh justifies the move to the island saying overcrowding in the camps in Cox’s Bazar is leading to crimes.

It also dismisses concerns of floods, citing the construction of a 2-metre (6.5 feet) embankment for 12 km (7.5 miles) to protect the island along with housing for 100,000 people, as well as facilities such as cyclone centres and hospitals.

Its actions, nevertheless, have attracted criticism from relief agencies that had not been consulted on the previous transfers.

U.S.-based advocacy group Refugees International has said the plan is “short-sighted and inhumane” while the Fortify Rights Group said the relocations may be “coerced and involuntary” and should cease immediately.

The government says the relocation is voluntary but some refugees from the first group that went there in early December have spoken about being coerced.

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