COX’S BAZAR: Bangladesh wants to send more than 80,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal after sealing an agreement for the United Nations to provide help, officials said on Friday.
Some 19,000 of the Muslim refugees from Myanmar have already relocated from crowded camps on the mainland to Bhashan Char island, despite doubts raised by aid groups, officials said.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat said that tens of thousands more would go once the monsoon storms that batter the Bay of Bengal each year end in November.
“We are aiming to relocate some 81,000 (Rohingya) to Bhashan Char by the end of February to complete the 100,000 quota,” he said.
The government has spent about $350 million building shelters on the 53 square kilometre (20 square mile) island which was formed by tidal silt deposits about 20 years ago.
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On top of the inhospitable weather, the island is 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the Bangladesh mainland and some Rohingya groups say people were forced to go there.
About 850,000 Rohingya are packed into camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Most fled a Myanmar military clampdown in 2017 that the UN says could be genocide.
Bangladesh has been praised for taking in the refugees who poured across the border but has had little success finding them permanent homes.
While a Bangladesh security intelligence agency is responsible for relocating the refugees, the government denies that any coercion has been used.
Still, several hundred Rohingya have fled Bhashan Char only to be detained on other islands or in coastal villages. Dozens died after a fishing boat packed with Rohingya trying to flee the island sank in August.
The UN had expressed doubts about the relocations. But Bangladesh and UN officials said a deal has been agreed to give the UN a role in providing humanitarian assistance and monitoring conditions on the island.