Muslim refugees who fled violence in Myanmar sent to remote island

DHAKA – A group of more than 1,700 Rohingya Muslim refugees sailed for a remote island in the Bay of Bengal to be ready on Saturday, a Bangladeshi Navy official said despite concerns about the risk of storms and floods.

They are the latest addition to the roughly 3,500 Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar whom Bangladesh has sent to the island of Bhasan Char from border camps where a million live in dilapidated huts since the beginning of December.

“Today we expect more than 1,700 people to arrive,” Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, the island official, told Reuters on Friday by phone.

More Rohingya who had volunteered to move to the island were moved from the camps to the nearest port city of Chittagong, he added.

Rohingya refugees sit on wooden benches on a naval ship en route to Bhasan Char Island in the Noakhali district of Bangladesh.Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters file

“Tomorrow they will be transferred to Bhasan Char. In total we expect more than 3,000 people,” said Chowdhury.

The island, which emerged from the sea only two decades ago, is several hours’ drive from the southern port.

The Rohingya, a minority who fled the violence in Myanmar with a Buddhist majority, are not allowed to leave the island without government permission.

Bangladesh says the relocation is voluntary, but some of the first groups sent in December spoke of coercion.

The government also says the overcrowding of camps in the Cox Bazar district is fueling the crimes as efforts to return them to the Myanmar flounder increase.

“What options do we have? How long can we live under tarps in the overcrowded camps?” asked Mohammed Ibrahim, 25, on the way to the island, where some of his relatives have already moved.

Refugees carry children and take their belongings for walks in order to be relocated to Bhasan Char Island on Friday.Azim Aunon / AP

“That leads nowhere to how the international community is dealing with our crisis,” he told Reuters on cell phone.

Bangladesh has also rejected the flood problems on the island, spearheading the construction of a 12 km section of dam, 2 meters (6.5 feet) high, as well as housing 100,000 people, hospitals and cyclone centers.

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She has criticized her reluctance to consult aid agencies, including the United States Refugee Agency, about the renditions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was not allowed to assess the safety and sustainability of life on the island.

“We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the government on the Bhasan Char project, including the proposed United States technical and protective assessments,” it said in an email.

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