Bangladesh sends third group of Rohingya refugees to island

DHAKA (AP) — Authorities in Bangladesh sent a third group of Rohingya refugees to a newly developed island in the Bay of Bengal yesterday despite calls by human rights groups for a halt to the process.

The government insists the relocation plan is meant to offer better living conditions while attempts to repatriate more than one million refugees to Myanmar would continue.

Yesterday morning, 1,778 refugees started their journey to the 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, said Bangladesh navy commander M Mozammel Haque.

He said a fourth batch would be sent to the island today.

“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 reporters.

Haque 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 said 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,” he said.

While human rights groups criticised the move, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government repeatedly said the refugees were moving to the island voluntarily under government management.

Authorities said the refugees were selected for relocation based on their willingness, and that no pressure was applied. But several human rights and activist groups said some refugees have been forced to go to the island, located 34 kilometres from the mainland.

The island surfaced only 20 years ago and was not previously inhabited. It was regularly submerged by monsoon rains but now has flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques built at a cost of more than USD112 million by the Bangladesh navy.