Dhaka, Nov 3 (efe-epa).- Bangladesh on Thursday began shifting Rohingya refugees to a never-inhabited Bhasan Char island that is prone to cyclones and floods, ignoring calls from global rights group to stop the relocation plan.
Quoting highly-placed unnamed sources, the leading newspaper Daily Star said the first convoy of Rohingyas left Cox’s Bazar for Chattogram on 11 reserved buses around 11.15 am.
There were around 423 Rohingyas in the first ten buses, said the newspaper, without providing more details.
The Rohingyas will be transferred to the remote island by boat from Chattogram.
Cox’s Bazar administration officials declined to comment on the issue but police said they had arranged security upon request from the authorities.
Police spokesperson Rafiqul Islam said authorities had sought police protection to transfer the refugees and that they have provided it.
“But we do not know when the transfer would start and how many will go,” Islam told EFE.
Bangladesh Navy Commodore Mamun Chowdhury, who is also Project Director at Bhasan Char, said they were ready to accept 100,000 Rohingyas but was not sure when they would arrive on the island.
Rohingya leader Mohammad Jubair told EFE that he was aware that eight families were leaving for Bhasan Char from Jamtola camp in Kutupalang.
Global rights groups earlier in a statement urged Bangladesh to immediately halt its plan to relocate Rohingya refugees to the island.
Human Right Watch, in a statement, said the Bangladesh authorities “have reportedly prepared a list of 4,000 Rohingya refugees” for the planned relocation with transfers to the port city of Chattogram on Thursday before taking them to the island.
“The Bangladesh government should immediately halt imminent relocations of Rohingya refugees to remote Bhasan Char island,” HRW said.
“The Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees and freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the United Nations’ call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.”
Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate Rohingyas to the 40-sq km island located in the Bay of Bengal.
The government undertook a project in November 2017 to develop the island under the responsibility of its navy and claimed to have built 1,440 housing structures, which can shelter some 100,000 people.
But the authorities put the plan on hold after the UN expressed its doubts over living conditions on the island.
The Bangladesh government has said any relocation would be voluntary.
HRW said it recently spoke with 12 families who reported that their names were on the relocation list but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate.
The rights group said some refugees on the list had fled out of fear of forced relocation.
“The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.