Four Bangladeshi Navy ships carrying at least 1,800 Rohingya refugees left the port of Chattogram for the island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, amid fears that many persecuted refugees had been forced to resettle on the island. island prone to flooding.
The Rohingya refugees, who have been accommodated in camps at Cox’s Bazar since fleeing Myanmar’s military crackdown in 2017, were taken to Chattogram on buses on Monday.
Naval Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury said at least 1,804 Rohingyas were being transported on ships to Bhasan Char. “We are ready to receive new arrivals,” he said by phone from the island.
The Rohingyas carried bags of personal effects, toys and chickens and took selfies with each other as they sat on wooden benches during the three-hour trip from Chattogram to Bhashan Char.
The government has insisted that the persecuted refugees want to start a new life in Bhashan Char, where 1,600 more arrived earlier this month. The South Asian nation ultimately wants to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to the isolated island in order to decongest the refugee camps that house around one million Rohingya.
Housing blocks have been set up for new arrivals on the island which Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has called a “beautiful seaside resort”. On Monday, he estimated the number of refugees transferred to Bhashan Char at just under 1,000.
But human rights activists have expressed further doubts over the transfers, saying some Rohingya found their slums in the camps padlocked and therefore had no choice but to leave.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury said international journalists were not allowed to visit the island.
“The naval commander in charge said there will be a next batch of refugees but we don’t know exactly when,” he said, speaking of Chittagong. [Chattogram] in the Bay of Bengal exposed to the south of the country.
To decongest the camp area
It took barely an hour to move [about] 1,800 Rohingya refugees aboard several navy ships heading for Bhasan Char, 42 km from Chittagong [Chattogram], he said.
“The government, for its part, says it needs to decongest the camp area as well as drug trafficking, and they are under intense public pressure to resolve the Rohingya crisis,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury said he spoke to some Rohingya by phone already in Bhasan Char and they told him they were happy with the accommodation.
“It’s a bit isolated,” Chowdhury said, but added that on the mainland, refugees had been confined to camps and had little freedom of movement.
The UN said it had not been involved in the process while rights organizations claim the government used “cash inducements” as well as “intimidation tactics” to force the Rohingya into force. to accept the resettlement offer.
But in October, Rohingya 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.
But Bangladesh’s foreign minister said the refugees were leaving “voluntarily”.
Try a new life on the island
The United Nations and rights groups have condemned the resettlement on the island, which is prone to cyclones and flooding.
The UN says she was not allowed to conduct a technical and security assessment of Bhashan Char and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there.
Refugees and aid workers say some Rohingya have been forced to travel to the island, which emerged from the sea just 20 years ago.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas took refuge in camps in Bangladesh in 2017 after a deadly crackdown by the Burmese military which the UN says could amount to genocide.
Several attempts to repatriate the Rohingya to Myanmar failed after refugees said they feared too much more violence to return.
“Today we had the opportunity to speak with some of the refugees who [to the island] in a boat, in the presence of government officials, ”Chowdhury said.
“Most of them said they volunteered – they are going on their own with their families because they are tired of the crowded life and see no future for repatriation. They said that everything seems uncertain, so they are ready to try a new life on the island.