Dhaka, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Authorities on Friday shipped the first batch of Rohingya refugee families to a settlement on a previously uninhabited remote island off the Bangladesh coast amid safety concerns raised by global rights groups.
Bangladesh additional commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation Shamsuddoha told EEF that a total of 1,642 refugees left port city Chittagong in Bangladesh navy and army ships for the Bhasan Char island in the morning.
Bangladesh Navy Commodore Mamun Chowdhury, who is also Project Director at Bhasan Char, said the refugees arrived on the island around 2 pm local time.
Local media, citing unnamed navy officials, said the authorities used 19 vessels to ship the Rohingyas to the island.
Two naval vessels on Thursday carried their luggage to the island.
Before they departed for Bhasan Char, Hamid, a Rohingya community leader, who did not give his second name, told private television Channel -71 that he was leading a group of 300 refugees from the Kutupalang camp to the island.
“We are going willingly because we are concerned about our security in the camp,” he said, in an apparent reference to the recent violence in Rohingya camps that left at least eight refugees dead.
“We think we can get better life there,” he said.
Human Rights Watch, however, in a statement on Thursday said it recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the list, but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate.
Some refugees on the list have fled out of fear of forced relocation, it said.
HRW and other international rights groups had urged the Bangladesh authorities to halt the relocation.
“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,” HRW said.
Bangladesh first announced in 2017 its plan to relocate Rohingyas to the 40-sq km island located in the Bay of Bengal, prone to cyclones and floods.
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 remote island.
The Bangladesh government has said any relocation would be voluntary.
The United Nations, in a statement on Wednesday, said 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 has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide. EFE-EPA