DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh on Thursday began relocating hundreds of Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, despite ongoing concerns from rights groups over the conditions on the vulnerable low-lying island and that no refugees should be sent forcibly.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group, over 700,000 of whom fled persecution and violence in neighboring Myanmar in August 2017. Bangladesh has been sheltering 1.1 million of the refugees in crowded camps near its coast.
A U.N.-sponsored investigation in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence against the Rohingya.
A senior Bangladeshi official overseeing the relocation, Mohammad Shamsud Douza, said that a navy ship would take 379 refugees from Chattogram city to the Bhashan Char Island which lies off the country’s southeastern coast.
“They are going there voluntarily. All the 379 refugees have chosen to live there for a better and secure life,” he told The Associated Press.
“Authorities will take care of everything— from food to medicine,” he added.
The government began sending Rohingya refugees to the island eleven months ago, and says it can now accommodate up to 100,000.
Douza said a total of 1,500 refugees would be transported to the island in phases over the next few weeks. Previously, about 19,000 refugees were relocated to the island from Cox’s Bazar where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in crowded camps.
Crime and security concerns have become a major issue in the sprawling camps at Cox’s Bazaar. In September, the killing in a gun attack of an international representative of the Rohingya refugees underlined the lack of security.
“We are moving to Bhasan Char after talking to the camp officials,” said Mohammed Abdul Hashim, a refugee as he left for the island on Thursday. Hashim said insecurity in the camps was rising, with many living in fear of criminal groups.