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Bangladesh ships second group of Rohingya to isolated island

December 29, 2020

Bangladesh has begun relocating a second group of nearly 1,000 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal, despite calls from human rights groups to halt the process.

Rohingya refugees are seen aboard a ship as they are moved to Bhashan Char island on December 4
Rohingya refugees are seen aboard a ship as they are moved to Bhashan Char island on December 4Image: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/REUTERS

Bangladesh on Monday began moving a second group of Rohingya refugees to a controversial island in the Bay of Bengal, despite pressure from human rights groups to stop the process on safety grounds. 

According to reports, around 1,000 people of the Muslim minority from Myanmar are being relocated to the low-lying Bhashan Char island from refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazaar. 

The refugees were taken to the Chittagong port from where they will be shipped to the island in naval vessels on Tuesday.

The move comes weeks after authorities sent a first group of more than 1,600 Rohingya to the island on December 4 amid criticism from human rights groups.

The previously uninhabited island surfaced only 20 years ago and is regularly submerged by rains during the monsoon season. 

The United Nations and several international aid agencies opposed Bangladesh's decision to relocate the Rohingya when it was first proposed in 2015 over fears that a big storm could swamp the island, putting thousands of lives at risk.

'They are going voluntarily'

The Bangladesh navy has built flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques designed to accommodate nearly 100,000 people, which is only a fraction of the Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution in Myanmar and are currently living in crowded camps in Bangladesh. 

Dhaka claims it is only relocating the people who are willing to go but humanitarian workers have said some of the refugees are being forced to move.

Rohingya refugees fear forceful relocation to remote island

The United Nations has also asserted that the Rohingya should be allowed to make a "free and informed decision" about whether to relocate.

"They are going voluntarily. They are very eager to go to Bhashan Char because they have heard from their relatives, those who have gone to Bhashan Char, that (it) is an excellent place," Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen told AFP.

He added that Bhashan Char was a "beautiful resort" and claimed the island was "100 times better" than the camps, and that the Rohingya refugees had "appealed" to be taken there.

dvv/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters)