Bangladesh plans to move Rohingya to island

2015-05-27 19:56
(Gemunu Amarasinghe, AP)

(Gemunu Amarasinghe, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Dhaka - Bangladesh plans to relocate thousands of Rohingya who have spent years in refugee camps near the Myanmar border to a southern island, an official said on Wednesday, as the region faces a human-trafficking crisis.

The government has started planning the relocation to Hatiya island in the Bay of Bengal in a move backed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said additional secretary Amit Kumar Baul.

"The relocation of the Rohingya camps will definitely take place. So far, informal steps have been taken according to the PM's directives," Baul, head of the government's Myanmar Refugee Cell, told AFP.

A Rohingya leader urged the government to rethink, saying the plan would only make life worse for the refugees - many of whom have been languishing in the camps for years since they left Myanmar.

"We want the [Bangladesh] government and international organisations to resolve our issue from here," Mohammad Islam, a community leader in one of the camps, told AFP.

Bangladesh is home to 32 000 registered Rohingya refugees who are sheltering in two camps in the southeastern district of Cox's Bazar which borders Myanmar.

The Muslim Rohingya leave Myanmar largely to escape discriminatory treatment by the Buddhist majority.

The United Nations refugee agency, which has been assisting the refugees in the camps since 1991, said such a scheme would have to be voluntary to succeed.

"The success of the plan would depend on what will be on offer in the new location and if the refugees would like to be there," UNHCR spokesperson Onchita Shadman told AFP.

A forced relocation would be "very complex and controversial", she said.

Baul said the move was partly motivated by concerns the camps were holding back tourism in Cox's Bazar, home to the world's longest unbroken beach and where locals flock to hotels and resorts.

"The government has been paying [increasing] importance to the tourism sector. Therefore, a plan to relocate them to an isolated area is under process," he said.

Mass graves

Thousands of persecuted Rohingya from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshi migrants have been attempting perilous boat journeys organised by people-smugglers to Southeast Asia.

Malaysia is a favourite destination. Migrants often travelled to Thailand by boat, then overland to northern Malaysia.

But Thailand began a crackdown on human-trafficking and smuggling following the discovery of mass graves there, which appears to have thrown regional trafficking routes into chaos.

More than 3 500 migrants have arrived on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian soil in recent weeks, and hundreds or thousands more are feared still trapped on boats.

Seven camps - some with dozens of graves believed to contain the bodies of Rohingya - have been uncovered in Thailand's Songkhla province close to the Malaysian border.

Rights groups say local people must have been aware of the trade, and on Wednesday Thai police said they wanted villagers to aid their investigation.

Malaysian media reported that police are investigating 12 of their own officers to determine whether they had links to more mass graves found within Malaysia but close to the Thai sites.

A total of 139 grave sites and 28 recently abandoned camps have been found on the Malaysian side of the frontier, but the number of dead is unclear.

'Mentally sick'

Details of Bangladesh's plans emerged just days after Hasina slammed Bangladesh's own economic migrants, calling them "mentally sick" and accusing them of hurting the country's image.

The island plan, reported this week in local media, has not been formally announced but officials have been tasked with preparing for the relocation.

Badre Firdaus, government administrator of Hatiya island, said 500 acres had been identified as suitable for the relocation.

The move would not include the estimated 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees who have fled across the border over the past decade and taken refuge in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Most live close to the two camps but are not entitled to food or other aid.

Rights groups say those illegal Rohingya migrants survive in appalling conditions in Bangladesh, living on the margins and running the gauntlet of the country's authorities.

The camps are a nine-hour journey by land and sea from Hatiya, home to Bangladeshi farmers and fishermen and located at the mouth of the Meghna river in the Bay of Bengal.

Read more on:    bangladesh

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.