Hundreds of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are being relocated to a controversial island facility in the Bay of Bengal amid fears that some could be coerced to move there and held indefinitely.
A ship carrying 1642 refugees is traveling to Bhasan Char, an island about 40 kilometers off the coast near the city of Chittagong, according to Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
The Bangladeshi government has spent years constructing a network of shelters on the island to accommodate up to 100,000 people currently living in sprawling refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, near the Myanmar border.
But human rights groups and the refugees themselves have long expressed concerns over the safety of the uninhabited, low-lying island, as it often becomes partially submerged during monsoon season and is vulnerable to cyclones.
Human Rights Watch has described conditions on the island as “poor” with Rohingya likely facing a lack of adequate medical care. The group has also expressed concerns that refugees there could be denied freedom of movement, sustainable livelihoods or education.
In a statement, Refugees International said the relocation was “short-sighted and inhumane,” and should be stopped.
The Bangladeshi foreign minister said he didn’t understand why aid agencies were against the move.
Camps at Cox’s Bazar is home to about 1 million Rohingya refugees. Many of the refugees fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape a violent military crackdown in 2017, which led the International Court of Justice in The Hague to order Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population from acts of genocide. Myanmar denies the genocide accusations, and maintains the “clearance operations” by the military were legitimate counter-terrorism measures.