A United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar voiced deep concern on Monday over Bangladesh’s plan to relocate 23,000 Rohingya refugees in April to a remote island, saying it may not be habitable and could create a potential “new crisis”.
Bangladesh says moving refugees to Bhasan Char – whose name means “floating island” – will ease chronic overcrowding in its camps at Cox’s Bazar, which hold some 730,000 Rohingya. The UNsays the Muslim minority fled mass killings and rapes committed during an army crackdown in Rakhine state since August 2017.
Some humanitarian groups have criticized the relocation plan, saying the island in the Bay of Bengal is vulnerable to frequent cyclones.
“There are a number of things that remain unknown to me even following my visit, chief among them being whether the island is truly habitable,” said Yanghee Lee, UNspecial rapporteur on Myanmar, who visited the island in January.
“Ill-planned relocation, and relocations without the consent of the refugees concerned, have the potential to create a new crisis,” she told the UNHuman Rights Council.
Shah Kamal, secretary of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Ministry, said the government was in talks with UNagencies on the issue.
“(The agencies) have agreed. Now we’re finalizing with them how to move them (the refugees) and all other factors. Everything is ready… Housing, power, healthcare, communication, storm surge embankment, cyclone shelter centers and all other facilities,” he told Reuters in Dhaka.
“There is absolutely no reason to be concerned about floods because we have built an embankment. And no one will be moved there against their will.”