Bangladesh Ships 1,600 Rohingya To Controversial Island

Bangladesh Ships 1,600 Rohingya To Controversial Island

Bangladesh transported more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island on Friday in the first phase of a controversial planned relocation of 100,000 people.

Almost a million Rohingya — most of whom fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar three years ago — live in squalid camps in southeastern Bangladesh. Any return to Myanmar appears unlikely for now.

Dhaka wants to move 100,000 of the refugees to Bhashan Char, a silt island that critics say is prone to flooding and in the path of cyclones that frequently wreak havoc in the region.

Rights groups have alleged that many of those sent in the first wave on Friday were coerced into going with threats or sweeteners.

This was borne out by some family members that AFP spoke to at camps in the Cox’s Bazar district on Thursday as they said tearful goodbyes to their relatives.

“They beat my son mercilessly and even smashed his teeth so that he agreed to go to the island,” said Sufia Khatun, 60, who came to see off her son and five other relatives.

At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there had been “some reports from the camps that some refugees may be feeling pressured into relocating” or had changed their minds about going.

“If so, they should be allowed to remain in the camps in Cox’s Bazar,” he said.

But Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen called the claims “a damn lie”, and said the facilities on the island were “much better” than in the camps.

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