Officials say the country will transfer an additional 2,000 to 3,000 refugees to Bhasan Char despite international criticism.
Bangladesh will move up to 3,000 more Rohingya Muslim refugees this week to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, despite complaints from rights groups concerned about the island’s vulnerability to storms and flooding.
Bangladesh has relocated around 3,500 Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar to Bhasan Char Island since early December. They previously took shelter in border camps where a million people live in dilapidated huts perched on razed hills.
Bhasan Char emerged from the sea just two decades ago and is several hours by boat from the nearest port of Chittagong.
The Rohingya, a minority group that fled violence in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are not allowed to leave the island without government permission.
“Most likely, 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 told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
“The last time we had preparations for 700 to 1,000 but eventually more than 1,800 Rohingyas settled there. People who have moved earlier call their relatives and friends to go. This is why more and more people are going there.
Bangladesh justifies the move to the island by saying that overcrowding in the camps in Cox’s Bazar leads to crimes.
He also dismisses fears of flooding, citing the construction of a two-meter (6.5 feet) by 12 km (7.5 miles) embankment to protect the island, as well as housing for 100,000 people, as well as facilities such as cyclone centers and hospitals.
However, the move has drawn criticism from relief agencies who say they were not consulted about the transfers.
“The UN has previously shared terms of reference with the government for technical and protection assessments to assess the safety and sustainability of life in Bhasan Char, although we have not yet been authorized to carry out these. assessments, ”said the UN refugee agency.
“We stress that all movements to Bhasan Char must be voluntary and based on full information regarding the living conditions on the island and the rights and services that refugees will be able to access there.”
The government says the resettlement is voluntary, but some first-group refugees who arrived in early December said they were forced.
Rights organizations say the government used “cash incentives” as well as “intimidation tactics” to force Rohingyas to accept the resettlement offer.
But in October, Rohingyas told Al Jazeera they were abused after going on a hunger strike against what they called their forced relocation to the uninhabited island.
In May, Dhaka quarantined nearly 300 Rohingya in Bhashan Char – a muddy silt islet in the cyclone-prone coastal belt, after refugees were rescued from a stranded boat.