Bangladesh has begun moving Rohingya refugees to a remote, flood-prone island despite evident objections from the refugees and human rights groups.
The Rohingyas, as described by the UN, are the world’s most persecuted people who have faced heightened fear of attack.
Bangladesh claims it is only moving those who are willing to go and that this will ease chronic overcrowding in camps that are home to nearly one million Rohingyas, members of a Muslim minority who fled neighbouring Myanmar.
Foreign minister Abdul Momen said: “The government is not taking anyone to Bhashan Char forcibly. We maintain this position.”
However, the massive operation will allegedly relocate 2,500 families amid safety concerns and lack of consent from refugees.
“They have taken us here forcefully,” a 31-year-old man told Reuters by phone as he boarded a bus from the camps near Cox’s Bazar. “Three days ago, when I heard that my family is on the list, I ran away from the block but yesterday I was caught and taken here,” he said.
An 18-year-old woman said her husband had put their names on the list thinking it was for food rations. He fled when they were told to go to Bhasan Char, she said, adding she is also hiding in the camp.
More than 1,600 Rohingyas sailed on Friday from Bangladesh’s southern port of Chittagong for the remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
The island, which can accommodate 1,00,000 people, prohibits entry of foreign media.
The people being shifted to the island are among more than 7,30,000 Rohingyas who fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military-led crackdown that the United Nations said was executed with genocidal intent.
Myanmar denies genocide and says its forces were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
Refugees International criticised the move saying it is “nothing short of a dangerous mass detention of the Rohingya people in violation of international human rights obligations”.
The United Nations has also voiced concern that refugees be allowed to make a “free and informed decision” about whether to relocate to the island in the Bay of Bengal.