Bangladesh ferries Rohingya boat people to remote island

Dhaka, May 3 (efe-epa).- Authorities in Bangladesh said on Sunday that they had sent over two dozen Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited remote island after they entered the country in small boats following weeks at the sea.

“Some Rohingyas entered in our Teknaf area in small boats. Our villagers detained some of them and informed the coast guard while some others fled. The coast guard took them to Bhasan Char last night,” Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told EFE.

The minister could not provide the number of Rohingyas ferried to the Island, but a Coast Guard official, preferring to remain unnamed, said the group comprised 29 refugees.

The Rohingyas are believed to be part of a group of 500 women, men, and children, who, according to the rights group, were stuck in the Bay after Malaysian authorities pushed them away.

The two trawlers were headed towards Bangladesh a week after an earlier vessel carrying nearly 400 Rohingya refugees arrived there on Apr.15.

Bangladesh authorities on Apr.16 rescued 396 Rohingyas who were trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after 58 days at sea.

Bangladesh said it would not accept any more Rohingyas as its priority was now to protect the refugee camp area from the spread of coronavirus.

“We don’t want the virus to spread in the refugee camp. We are afraid if somehow coronavirus reaches in the camp, it will spread quickly,” said the foreign minister, adding that the newly-arrived Rohingyas will stay in the Island until return to Myanmar.

A spokesperson of UN refugee agency UNHCR said it was still seeking information from the relevant authorities about the transfer of new Rohingyas to Bhasan Char Island.

“The UN’s longstanding position is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before any relocation to the island takes place,” said UNHCR spokesperson Louise Donovan.

The island, also known as Thengar Char, emerged from the sea about a decade ago. It covers an area of about 40 square kilometers or 16 square miles.

It is accessible through motorboats only and is usually hit by monsoon floods.

Bangladesh 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.

However, the plan to relocating the Rohingyas to the flood-prone Island was halted in February amid criticisms from rights groups, who asked the authorities not to replace one humanitarian crisis with another.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March offered the facilities to the country’s poor, who wished to stay away from the coronavirus pandemic but an official in charge of any possible relocation said they received only one application for this.

“Only one man applied to go to the Island. But we did not find him in the phone number he provided,” said Tanmay Das, the Deputy Commissioner of southern Noakhali district. EFE-EPA


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