Dhaka, Feb 15 (efe-epa).- Bangladeshi authorities on Monday began transferring over 3,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal in the fourth phase of a controversial plan from congested camps in Cox’s Bazar in the country’s southeast.
“We have started transferring 2,014 refugees today from Chittagong to Bhasan Char,” which was an uninhabited island until the Bangladeshi government launched its controversial transfer program in December, Mohammad Shamsuddoha, Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, told EFE.
“Another 1,000 refugees will be taken to Chittagong from Cox’s Bazar (where the refugee camps are located) today. They will be shifted to the island tomorrow,” he added.
Bangladesh has already relocated some 6,500 Rohingyas in the first three phases of the program.
Officials have defended the measure as crucial to decongesting the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.
However, international groups such as Human Rights Watch have urged Dhaka to halt the process due to the conditions on the previously uninhabited island – prone to monsoon floods and cyclones – and the lack of transparency in the process.
Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to the 40-sq km (15 square miles) island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal, although authorities had put the plan on temporary hold after the United Nations expressed doubts about the project.
The UN, which had insisted that the transfer process should be voluntary, said in December that it was not involved in preparations for the movement or the identification of refugees and had limited information on the overall relocation exercise.
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar that the UN described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
Two attempts to start the repatriation of the refugees failed as the Rohingyas refused to go back until they were guaranteed citizenship and security in their homeland.
The military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1 has cast fresh doubts about their possible return to their homes in the country’s Rakhine region in the near future. EFE-EPA