Dhaka, Mar 3 (efe-epa).- Bangladeshi authorities on Wednesday began transferring over 2,200 Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal in the fifth phase of their relocation from congested camps in Cox’s Bazar in the southeast of the country.
The group will join over 10,000 Rohingyas that have already been sent to island during the first four phases of the program, according to officials.
“Today we are relocating over 2,200 refugees to Bhasan Char. They are traveling in two batches. We will transfer another group tomorrow (Thursday),” Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat told EFE.
Hayat added that the number of Rohingyas to be transferred could vary as they often make their decision late.
“We try to take everyone willing to go. Sometimes we have to drop some Rohingyas due to split opinion in their family or their late decision making. But those who are going they are all fully informed and give their consent,” he said.
Additional refugee commissioner Mohammad Shamsuddoha told EFE a total of 2,260 Rohingyas traveled to Chittagong from their camp in Cox’s Bazar for relocation to Bhasan Char.
“We are taking them all unless anyone changes their decision at the last minute,” he said, adding that a total of 10,200 Rohingyas have been transferred so far in the first four phases.
The Bangladesh authorities began transferring the refugees in December against concern from international rights groups over conditions on the previously uninhabited island, which is prone to monsoon floods and cyclones.
However, officials have defended the measure as crucial for de-congestion of the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to the 40-square kilometer (15 square miles) island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal, although authorities had put the plan on 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 repatriation in the near future. EFE-EPA