Dhaka, Bangladesh: Seven Bangladeshi naval ships carrying 1,804 Rohingya refugees arrived on a separate island on Tuesday, where they will be transferred despite concerns among human rights groups over their safety.
Government official Mohammad Khurshid Alam Khan said that after a four-hour naval voyage from the port city of Chittagong, they reached the island of Bhashan, 21 miles (34 kilometers) from the mainland.
He said authorities found 433 men, 523 women and 848 children in the island. The officials insisted that all the people were ready to move and that no pressure was put on them. But many human rights and activist groups say some people were forced to leave.
It was the second group of Rohingya refugees who migrated to the island from crowded, rebel camps in the Cox’s Bazar district. The authorities sent the first group of 1,642 on 4 December, despite calls for a moratorium by human rights groups.
Rear Admiral MD Mojammal Haque, commander of the local navy, said that the number of refugees coming in second “has exceeded their expectations.”
He said officials were initially expecting to move about 1,200 refugees, but 1,804 chose to leave.
The island was exposed only 20 years ago and was not previously inhabited. It was regularly submerged by monsoon rains, but now flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques have been built by the Bangladesh Navy at a cost of more than $ 112 million.
The island’s facilities are designed to accommodate 100,000 people, a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in camps in Cox’s Bazar.
International aid agencies and the U.N. Has opposed resettlement since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fears that a major storm could wash out on the island and endanger thousands of lives.
The United Nations also expressed concern that the refugees had been allowed to make “free and informed decisions” to relocate. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the government to cancel the scheme.
Obaidul Quader, an influential cabinet minister and general secretary of the Governing Party, said on Monday that the Rohingya were being moved to the island as their repatriation to Myanmar has been delayed. He said that the refugees who were earlier taken to Bhushan Char have expressed satisfaction.
Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after August 2017, when Myanmar forces began to take stern action against the minority group after the rebels attacked. Security forces have been charged with gang rape, murder and burning thousands of homes.
Bangladesh has begun an effort to repatriate the refugees to Myanmar under a bilateral agreement, but no one was willing to leave.
The Rohingya have not been recognized as citizens in Myanmar, have been deported, and have faced other state-sanctioned discrimination.