CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, (AFP):- Bangladesh authorities on Friday moved more than 1,750 Rohingya Muslims to a controversial island in the Bay of Bengal despite complaints made by refugees already there.
Officials said over 3,000 Rohingya would be taken by boat to Bhashan Char island on Friday and Saturday from congested camps on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar.
A Navy ship packed with migrants on its top deck set off from the port city of Chittagong on Friday.
Bangladesh has struggled to cope with more than 700,000 Rohingyas who fled across the frontier in 2017 after a Myanmar military crackdown on the Muslim minority.
That added to 300,000 already in the camps.
With the new arrivals, some 7,000 Rohingya would be on the 13,000-acre (53-square kilometre) island.
The government has said about 100,000 people could be settled on Bhashan Char from the camps.
Rights groups say many of the Rohingya have been moved against their will and have also raised concerns over the safety of the island that is regularly flooded during the cyclone season.
Authorities want to move many of the new inhabitants before the cyclone season starts in April.
Bhashan Char — a silty strip that did not exist two decades ago — is situated in a region where about 700,000 people have died in storms in the past 50 years.
The new residents also complain about the lack of work.
An AFP correspondent spoke to four refugees on the island who expressed frustration at employment opportunities.
“It is a better life for us in Bhashan Char in comparison to Kutupalong camp. But some people are still unhappy,” said a 38-year-old Rohingya, who did not give a name out of fears for his security.
“The problem on this island is we cannot work freely and earn money.” Aid agencies employ more people in the refugee camps and there is local trading.
Officials say that authorities have launched trade and skill training programmes for the Rohingya.
The United Nations says the relocation should be voluntary and it has not been involved in the operation.
Spokeswoman Louise Donovan said the UN wanted to assess “safety and sustainability” on Bhashan Char, but has not been given approval.
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