Since last December, Bangladesh has transferred about 19,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar, to Bhasan Char Island from border camps on the mainland.
Human rights groups have likened it to an island prison and say some of the relocations are involuntary.
Alexander Mathou, Asia-Pacific Regional Director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said restrictions on free movement, lack of job opportunities and healthcare would “prevent people from choosing to travel in bulk” to the island, some hours from the mainland.
Mathou, who visited on Tuesday, told Reuters by phone that the site was “well designed and organized for housing” and had access to clean water, but health services were “too basic to fail”. accommodate a large population” and has no established transit system to the mainland.
He said the main problem with the refugees he spoke to was that they couldn’t travel back and forth inland to see their families.
“Even though it’s difficult, it really upsets people,” he said. “So all those problems can act as a deterrent for people to come voluntarily… I think those problems will undermine the success of the project unless they are addressed. .”
He said the authorities, who plan to move another 81,000 refugees to the island, were exploring allowing people to go inland for a limited time.
Bangladeshi officials did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
The United Nations agreed to begin work on the island in October in an agreement that does not guarantee free movement, according to a leaked copy of the unpublished agreement seen by Reuters.
One Bhasan Char official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters by phone that authorities were preparing to transport another group of between 1,500 and 2,000 on Thursday.
Mohammed Arman, a refugee living on the island, said people don’t want to go there because of restrictions on movement.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday that camp officials and government security agencies were forcing refugees to relocate, including with the confiscation of identification documents. their.
“Bangladesh’s October agreement with the UN does not provide free tickets to forcibly resettle Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migration rights director at Human Rights Watch. .
“Conversely, donor governments will now scrutinize Bhasan Char to ensure their support does not contribute to abuse.”
More than one million Rohingya live in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar, most in 2017 following a military crackdown that included mass murder and gang rape and was carried out by the United Nations with the intention of genocide.
Myanmar denies genocide, saying it is waging a legitimate campaign against insurgents who have attacked police stations.