Bangladesh will move more than 3,000-4,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal over the next two days. The transfers are still underway, despite concerns about the risk of storms and floods hitting the region.
Dhaka has relocated some 7,000 people to Bhasan Char island since early December from border camps in neighboring Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where more than one million refugees live in huts which are dilapidated perched on the slope of a ruined hill.
The Rohingya refugees will be transferred to Bhasan Char by boat Monday and Tuesday, the island’s Navy Commodore, Rashed Sattar, said.
Bangladesh says the relocation was voluntary, but some of the first group to be moved spoke of being forced.
The government has dismissed security concerns on the island, citing the construction of flood defenses and housing for 100,000 people, a hospital and a typhoon center. He also said overcrowding in the refugee camps was fueling crime.
Once they arrived in Bhasan Char, Rohingya, minority groups fleeing violence were not allowed to leave the island.
Bangladesh has drawn criticism for reluctance to consult with the United Nations refugee agency and other aid agencies on the displacement.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it had not been allowed to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on the island.
“The process of displacing Rohingya will continue … they are going there happily for a better life,” Mohammad Shamsud Douza, the deputy government official in charge of refugees there said.
“Our top priority is to return them to their homeland in a dignified and sustainable manner,” he said.
Bangladesh has called on Myanmar to continue the process of voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees that has been stalled, as international pressure has risen on military leaders following the coup, reducing hopes for refugees to return home.
“I don’t see a future for us,” the 42-year-old refugee said, who chose to move to the island. “The little hope we had of returning to our homeland was shattered after the coup.”