BHASAN CHAR (BANGLADESH) – A second group of Rohingya Muslim refugees have been relocated to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, despite opposition from rights groups worried about the new site’s vulnerability to storms.
The Bangladesh navy took the 1,804 Rohingya to the island in five ships, with the refugees sitting on wooden benches on deck, some clutching ducks, pigeons and chickens in bamboo baskets and wearing orange life vests and masks against the coronavirus.
The United Nations says it has not been involved in the relocation but urged the government to ensure no refugee is forced to move to Bhasan Char island, which only emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
Initially a group of 1,642 Rohingya’s who had fled from violence in Myanmar, were relocated from their camps near the Myanmar border to the isolated island earlier in the month.
Aid groups had opposed to the move, worried about a disaster in a country that regularly faces severe weather, especially along its coast.
The government has built a 2-metre (6.5 feet) high embankment for 12-km (7.5 mile) to protect the island along with housing for 100,000 people. It dismisses the risks.
“The island is completely safe,” says Foreign Minister Abdul Momen.
“Bhasan Char is better,” said one middle-aged man who arrived with his wife and three children from a refugee camp of bamboo and plastic shelters packed across muddy hills near the Myanmar border, where some one million Rohingya live.
While the government says the relocation is voluntary, some refugees from the first group have spoken about being coerced to go. The human rights group Amnesty International also expressed concern.