Bangladesh sends hundreds more Rohingya refugees to island

“They are going there voluntarily. All the 379 refugees have chosen to live there for a better and secure life,” he told The Associated Press.

“Authorities will take care of everything – from food to medicine,” he added.

The government began sending Rohingya refugees to the island eleven months ago, and says it can now accommodate up to 100,000.

Douza said a total of 1,500 refugees would be transported to the island in phases over the next few weeks. Previously, about 19,000 refugees were relocated to the island from Cox’s Bazar where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in crowded camps.

It was not clear when the next batch will travel to the island.

The government says the relocation is a temporary arrangement and eventually they will have to return to their home country in Myanmar, although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also said she will not force the refugees to return.

In October, the UN signed an agreement with Bangladesh’s government to facilitate sending refugees to the island. The UN and other groups had earlier criticised the relocation, saying the island, which is regularly submerged by monsoon rains, was not fit for habitation.

The government has spent more than US$112 million on development, adding sea walls, hospitals, schools and mosques.

The UN agreement allows for close cooperation between the international body and the government to supply services and aid for the island’s residents.

Rights groups, however, have continued to express concerns over the plans. This week, the International Federation of Red Cross urged in a statement that urgent action was needed to protect the refugees from cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic on Bhashan Char Island. It said Bangladesh’s Red Crescent has been working directly with the refugees so that lifesaving measures are in place ahead of the next big cyclone, as big storms regularly threaten the Bay of Bengal from September until December.

It said vaccinations have been underway for people aged over 55 on the island, and more doses are due for the remaining adults.

The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination and violence.


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