Bangladeshi Government to Relocate Rohingya Refugees to Inhospitable Island

Cox Bazaar Refugee Camp The government of Bangladesh announced a plan on January 31 to move Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to the remote island of Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal.

Sixty-five thousand Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state in Myanmar since October 2016 to escape persecution from the Buddhist-majority nation. In Myanmar, Rohingyas cannot obtain citizenship and have reported mass rapes and killings in their home towns. Prior to the refugee influx, an estimated 232,000 Rohingya lived in Bangladeshi refugee camps.

Thengar Char, in the Southeast, has been described as uninhabitable. Created a decade ago by sediment from the nearby River Meghna, high tides frequently inundate the island which lacks roads and flood defenses. It lies nine hours away from the current refugee camps in Cox Bazaar, a tourist resort in southeastern Bangladesh.

Authorities planted trees to mitigate the flooding. However, an official said that this task would not be completed for a decade and added that the island was “only accessible during winter and a haven for pirates."

Around 33,000 Rohingyas currently live in the two UN camps in Cox Bazaar. Most work low-paying jobs and lack basic necessities. However, many have said that they will return to Myanmar should Bangladesh follow through with its plan.

In an interview with The Guardian, refugee Abdul Korim said, “I work as a day wage construction worker in Cox’s bazar and somehow I manage to support my family of seven members here. [On] Thengar Char, where even arable land does not exist, life will be very hard for us.”

The Bangladeshi government expressed concerns about Rohingyas disrupting law and order. It also requested that officials prevent more illegal entry of Myanmar nationals and limit undocumented immigrants who have already entered to specified areas.

The government of Myanmar first proposed the relocation plan in 2015, but postponed it after outcry from international human rights groups. The United Nations refugee agency described the plan as “complex and controversial” and suggested that refugees should be involved in crafting it.

In an email interview with The New York Times, Shinji Kubo, a representative of the United Nations refugee agency in Bangladesh, said that the agency was “concerned” about current plans.