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Amid outcry, Bangladesh readies to move 1,800 more Rohingya to island

A Rohingya boy carries his brother toward shore of the Naf River as people arrive by boats in Teknaf, Bangladesh. File Photo by Abir Abdullah/EPA-EFE
A Rohingya boy carries his brother toward shore of the Naf River as people arrive by boats in Teknaf, Bangladesh. File Photo by Abir Abdullah/EPA-EFE

Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The government of Bangladesh says it will move a second group of 1,800 Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, despite strong opposition from human rights groups.

Bangladesh sent more than 1,600 of the minority Muslim refugees to the remote island of Bhashan Char earlier this month. Officials said the Rohingya voluntarily departed overcrowded refugee camps, and the government said no one is being forced to go to the flood-prone island.

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"Today, we have mobilized 1,772 Rohingyas from 427 families for Chittagong," a government official said Monday. "This time, the figure is 130 more than the first batch [of 1,642]."

Mamun Chowdhury, director of the Bhashan Char Project, said the island is prepared to accommodate the refugees.

"We are expecting more than 1,000 people [Tuesday]," Chowdhury said. "Our preparations to make their stay comfortable have been completed."

Moving the Rohingya to Bhashan Char, however, has drawn substantial criticisms.

Local and global humanitarian groups have said the low-lying island, which has been above sea level for only 20 years and has never been inhabited, is an unsuitable location for the refugees, who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar.

Bangladesh has struggled to come up with a solution to the growing number of refugees, many of whom are still living in crowded conditions in camps at Cox's Bazar.

Bangladeshi foreign minister Abdul Momen said Bhashan Char is "100 times better" than the overpopulated camps, where health experts fear a dangerous spread of COVID-19.

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