Bangladesh moves Rohingya to isolated island

BHASHAN CHAR (AFP) – Four Bangladesh navy ships yesterday took the second and biggest group of Rohingya yet from crowded refugee camps to an uncertain future on a bleak island three hours from the mainland.

The government insisted that the 1,800 refugees, who have been in camps since fleeing a military clampdown, want to start new lives on Bhashan Char, where 1,600 others arrived earlier this month.

But rights activists expressed new doubts about the transfers. They said some Rohingya had their shanty homes in the camps on the Myanmar border padlocked so they had no choice.

The Bangladesh government eventually wants to rehouse 100,000 of the camps’ approximately one million Rohingya on the island, which takes the full force of cyclones that roar across the Bay of Bengal each year.

The Rohingya carried bags of belongings, toys and chickens and took selfies with each other as they sat on wooden benches during the three hour trip from Chittagong to Bhashan Char.

Rohingya refugees sit on a Bangladesh Navy ship as they are relocated to the controversial flood-prone island Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal, in Chittagong. PHOTO: AFP

Housing blocks have been set up for the new arrivals on the island that Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has called a “beautiful resort”.

More than 700,000 Rohingya joined 300,000 already in camps in Bangladesh in 2017 after a conflict in Myanmar.

With Bangladesh now struggling to find a long-term solution to the Rohingya exodus, government refugee officials said there were better living facilities and better security for the Rohingya in Bhashan Char.

“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,” Momen told AFP.

Some Rohingya in the latest group said they were going willingly.

“The camp is a difficult and overcrowded place to live and move around,” Shafi Alam told AFP on the navy ship.

Grandmother Morium Khatun, 55, said she was making the change to escape drug-related crime in the camps that has seen dozens killed in recent years.