Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Bangladeshi authorities have begun to relocate 1,500 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, despite concerns from the United Nations and other human rights groups.
The relocation effort is part of a larger plan in Bangladesh to transport tens of thousands of Rohingya to the flood-prone island of Bhashan Char, which some advocates say is basically an island prison.
Bangladesh said the relocation is part of a "genuine effort" to help Rohingya who have been housed mostly in overcrowded refugee camps.
"The Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals and they must return to Myanmar," a statement from Bangladesh's foreign affairs ministry said Friday. "The government of Bangladesh is doing its best for the safety and security of these temporarily sheltered Myanmar nationals."
Bangladeshi officials say the relocations, which began Thursday, will be voluntary and safe during efforts to send them back to Myanmar.
The United Nations said this week it had received only limited information about the relocation and was not involved in the move.
"The United Nations takes this opportunity to highlight its longstanding position that Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char," the global body said in a statement.
"The government has indicated that movements to the island will be voluntary, and the United Nations calls on the government to respect this important commitment."
Brad Adams, Asian director of Human Rights Watch, said the Bangladeshi government is going back on a promise that it wouldn't move Rohingya to the island until the United Nations could evaluate facilities there.
"The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise," Adams said in a statement. "If the government was genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, it would be transparent and not hastily circumvent U.N. technical assessments."