Dhaka: Despite of human rights groups’ calls to halt the process, Bangladesh authorities, on Friday morning, shipped the third batch of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone, remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
Around 1,778 refugees were set off on the journey to a newly developed island of Bhasan Char in four navy vessels from the southeastern port city of Chattogram, after they were brought from crammed camps in Cox’s Bazar district, as per M Mozammel Haque, a commander of the Bangladesh navy.
Haque also said that a fourth batch would be sent to the island, located 34km (21 miles) from the mainland, on Saturday.
“Around 4,000 refugees have already been sent to the island since December, but we have the capacity of accommodating 100,000. The process will continue until we fulfil it,” he told media.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh government claims that the relocation plan is meant to offer better living conditions while attempts to repatriate more than one million refugees to Myanmar would continue.
Haque in his media interaction said the refugees were being treated well on the island and they would have the option of generating income by rearing cattle or poultry and could also engage in making handicrafts.
He also asserted that they wanted them to contribute to the economy, but their repatriation to Myanmar is the ultimate goal.
“They will be checked by our doctors when they arrive today. They will be given food and accommodation properly,” Haque said.
However, in contradiction with the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s claims alleging that the refugees were moving voluntarily, several human rights and activist groups say some refugees have been forced to go to the island.
The United Nations too voiced concern that refugees are allowed to make a “free and informed decision” about whether to relocate. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also urged the government to cancel the plan.
Additionally, international aid agencies have also opposed the relocation since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.
The government, however, refutes all the allegations and established to the human rights groups and the UN that they should understand its good intentions.
To note, the island which will now house tens of thousands Rohingyas, surfaced only 20 years ago and was not previously inhabited. The island used to initially submerged by monsoon rains but now it has been given flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques built at a cost of more than $112m by the Bangladesh navy.
The facilities on this island are designed to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of a million Rohingya who fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in crowded, squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.