Bangladesh strikes the second group of Rohingya refugees to a distant island

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© Reuters. The Bangladeshi Navy personnel screen Rohingyas before boarding a ship to move to Bhasan Char Island in Chattogram, Bangladesh

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From Ruma Paul

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Bangladesh began moving a second group of Rohingya Muslim refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, amid rights groups concerned about the new location’s vulnerability to flooding.

The United Nations said they were not involved in the relocation, but urged the government to ensure that no refugee is forced to move to Bhasan Char island, which emerged from the sea only 20 years ago.

“We are ready to receive the newcomers,” said Navy Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury from the island of the 1,804 Rohingya, who were moved in seven ships.

An initial group of more than 1,600 Rohingya, members of a minority group who fled Myanmar, were relocated to Bhasan Char from their rickety camps near the Myanmar border earlier this month.

Storms regularly hit the coast of Bangladesh. In 1991, nearly 143,000 people were killed when a cyclone triggered a 4.5-meter tidal wave.

The government has built a 12 km long dam to protect the island and accommodate 100,000 people. It rejects the risks.

“The island is completely safe,” Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters.

The government also says the relocation is voluntary, but some refugees from the first group have spoken about being forced to leave.

The human rights group Amnesty International also expressed concern.

“(A) The lack of transparency in the consultation process with refugees and allegations from the community that Rohingya families are being given financial incentives to move to Bhashan Char, as well as the use of intimidation tactics, make the relocation process questionable,” the group said.

Momen rejected such doubts.

“The Rohingya who moved there are very happy with the arrangement. Some evil groups are spreading negative propaganda,” he said.

Two Rohingya men aboard one of the ships going to the island from Chittagong Port told Reuters they were moving to their new homes of their own free will. One said he had already gone to live with relatives there while the other moved with his wife and six children.

“There is so much suffering and conflict in the camp,” said one of the men. “We go there in the hope of a better life.”

Reuters is holding their names back amid the community move controversy, and many are dying to stay on the mainland.

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