Bangladesh is preparing to start relocating tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims next month from overcrowded camps to a remote island vulnerable to extreme weather, despite the plan attracting considerable controversy.
Shelters and flood walls have been constructed on Bhashan Char, a muddy silt islet that only rose from the Bay of Bengal in 2006, in the hope of shifting 100,000 Rohingya refugees there. Bangladesh has been talking about the island for years and the plan to relocate some of the nearly one million Rohingya refugees living along its border with Myanmar has stalled many times.
International aid groups and rights bodies including the U.N., Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, however, have repeatedly warned the move could be risky and urged Bangladesh to go through the project with Rohingya refugees on a voluntary basis and with due clarification.
Until the Rohingya resettlement project began one year ago, the islet was apparently uninhabited, mostly used for cattle grazing and as a hub for pirates. The islet is about 30 kilometers from the mainland, and 52 kilometers from the southern Noakhali district. In 2013, the area was declared a forest reserve. Motorboats are the only mode of travel to the island. The humanitarian conditions on the islet have long been criticized by the aid groups.
The Myanmar government has long been blamed for genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya community in western Rakhine State. The huge exodus of Rohingya began in August last year after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the operation led to accusations from the international community, including the U.N., of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Rohingya Muslims are the most persecuted minority in the world according to U.N. figures and continue to suffer from oppression under the Myanmar government, the army and Buddhist extremists.
Over the past decade, thousands of Rohingya have been killed since violence broke out in 2008, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homeland for Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries in the region.
At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine State from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, 2017, according to Doctors without Borders (MSF). In a report last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent, or 6,700 Rohingya, were caused by violence. The death toll includes 730 children below the age of 5.