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Bangladesh moves second group of Rohingya refugees to remote island

DHAKA (REUTERS, AFP) – Bangladesh started moving a second group of Rohingya Muslim refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday (Dec 29), a naval official told Reuters, despite opposition from rights groups worried about the new site’s vulnerability to floods.

The 1,804 Rohingya were being moved in seven ships to Bhasan Char island, said Navy Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury.

“We are ready to receive the new arrivals,” he said by telephone from the island.

A first group of more than 1,600 Rohingya, members of a minority group who have fled from Myanmar, were relocated from their camps near the Myanmar border to Bhasan Char earlier in the month.

Two Rohingya men in the latest group told Agence France-Presse they were going to the island willingly. Mr Nur Kamal, a Rohingya from the giant Kutupalang refugee camp, said he was going to be with relatives already at Bhashan Char.

“What is the point of staying here (in the camps) without them?” he said.

Mr Serajul Islam said he was going with five family members and was not being forced.

“The way the international community is handling our issue, I don’t see any future in the camps,” he told AFP from the bus taking him to Chittagong. “It is better I go and live the rest of my life there in better housing. At least I won’t have to think about floods during the rainy season and unbearable heat in the summer.”

More than 700,000 Rohingya packed the camps in Bangladesh in 2017 after a deadly Myanmar military clampdown that the United Nations has said could be genocide.

After the first transfer on Dec 4, several Rohingya told AFP that they were beaten and intimidated to agree to move. The Bangladesh government eventually wants to put 100,000 Rohingya on the 13,000 acre (56 sq km) island, despite criticism from rights groups because Bhashan Char is so isolated.

The United Nations said it has not been involved in the process.

“Allegations from within the community about cash incentives being offered to Rohingya families to relocate to Bhashan Char as well as use of intimidation tactics are making the relocation process questionable,” said Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner Saad Hammadi.

Foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen said critics of the policy were making up stories.

“They are going voluntarily. They are very eager to go Bhashan Char because they have heard from their relatives, those who have gone to Bhashan Char, that (it) is an excellent place,” he told AFP earlier.

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