DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh intends to transfer more than 80,000 Rohingya refugees to a distant island in the Bay of Bengal after making a deal with the United Nations to provide help, officials said Friday.
The Bangladesh government has relocated nearly 19,000 Muslim refugees, members of a persecuted chiefly Muslim minority from Myanmar, from over-crowded border camps on the mainland to Bhashan Char island, despite protests by refugees and opposition parties and the doubts raised by the aid groups, officials said.
Shah Rezwan Hayat, the Bangladesh refugee commissioner, informed AFP, “We are aiming to relocate some 81,000 (Rohingya) to Bhashan Char by the end of February to complete the 100,000 quota.”
More than a million Rohingya are crammed into camps along the Myanmar- Bangladesh border after fleeing Myanmar military clampdown in 2017, including mass killings and gang rapes. The United Nations said it was possibly a genocide.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) is facing questions over whether it is helping to detain Rohingya refugees in prison-like conditions by providing services on a controversial island camp.
Over the past year, Bangladesh has relocated almost 20,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, an island formed of silt deposits in the Bay of Bengal thought to be vulnerable to cyclones, which the refugees are unable to leave.
Bangladesh has been praised for bringing in the refugees who poured across the border despite being not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention to confer refugee status on the group.
Rohingya resist the forced relocation, citing it as imprisonment on the island with harsher weather conditions and a ban to return to the mainland, 60 kilometers away, where their relatives live in the camps.
Several hundred Rohingya fled the Bhashan Char termed ‘refugee prison” by the unhappy refugees, but they were caught and detained on other islands or in coastal villages. Dozens died after an over-crowded fishing boat stuffed with Rohingya trying to flee the island went down in August.