More than 1,600 Rohingya refugees are being relocated to a remote island as part of the first phase of a controversial relocation program launched by the Bangladeshi goverment.
Some 1,640 men, women, and children are being moved from Bangladesh’s southern port of Chittagong to the remote island of Bhasan Char.
Around a million Rohingya refugees live in squalid camps in eastern Bangladesh, where deadly landslides and violence by drug gangs and extremists are reported to happen.
Most of the people ended up there after fleeing a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017.
The government in Dhaka says it is moving the Rohingya because of overcrowding at the camps in Cox’s Bazaar.
But critics say the low lying silt island is prone to flooding and that cyclones hit that region frequently.
The Bangladesh government has built shelters and a three-metre flood embankment around the area at a cost of around €330 million.
Rights groups have also alleged that many were coerced into going.
Sufia Khatun, 60, went to see off her son and five other relatives and said, “They beat my son mercilessly and even smashed his teeth so that he agreed to go to the island.”
But Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen called the rights groups’ claims “a damn lie”. He added the facilities on the island were “much better” than in the camps.
According to the authorities, the move will ease congestion in the vast network of existing cramped camps.
The United Nations office in Bangladesh said it had been prevented from independently assessing the “safety, feasibility and sustainability” of the island.
The co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, Ro Nay San Lwin, told Euronews “I think the Bangladesh government is not going to listen to any international human rights groups or UN organisations. They had been planning to relocate the Rohingya Refugees since 2018 and they have postponed this plan a few times”.
“I have visited the camp a few times so I know the reality,” added Ro Nay San Lwin, “Those pictures (of the camp) speak a thousand words”.
“The Bangladesh government had said they wouldn’t force anyone but the ground reality is different,” said Ro Nay San Lwin.
It’s also unclear whether the Rohingya will be able to leave the area once they’re there.
Security has been tightened with some 300 police officers deployed to the island.
To watch the full interview, click on the media player above.