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Bangladesh sends more Rohingya to island despite concerns

January 30, 2021 GMT
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Rohingya refugees walk to board a naval vessel to be relocated to to the island of Bhasan Char, in Chattogram, Bangladesh, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Authorities in Bangladesh sent a group of Rohingya refugees to a newly developed island in the Bay of Bengal on Saturday despite calls by human rights groups for a halt to the process. The government insists the relocation plan is meant to offer better living conditions while attempts to repatriate more than 1 million refugees to Myanmar would continue. (AP Photo/Azim Aunon)
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Rohingya refugees walk to board a naval vessel to be relocated to to the island of Bhasan Char, in Chattogram, Bangladesh, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Authorities in Bangladesh sent a group of Rohingya refugees to a newly developed island in the Bay of Bengal on Saturday despite calls by human rights groups for a halt to the process. The government insists the relocation plan is meant to offer better living conditions while attempts to repatriate more than 1 million refugees to Myanmar would continue. (AP Photo/Azim Aunon)

DHAKA,Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s government sent a fourth group of Rohingya Muslim refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal on Saturday, ignoring calls from human rights groups for a halt to the move.

The 1,466 Rohingya who had been living in the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar were sent Saturday to Bhasan Char, an island specifically developed to accommodate 100,000 of the 1 million Rohingya who have fled from neighboring Myanmar. That follows 1,776 refugees who made the trip on Friday.

The relocations began in December and have been criticized by human rights groups, who say many of the refugees are being forced to move against their will.

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have denied that and said the relocations will continue.

Bangladesh has said that ultimately it is up to Myanmar to take the refugees back and has called on the international community to put pressure on Myanmar’s government to ensure their safe return.

More than 1 million Rohingya have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in overcrowded, squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district.

“My people and relatives came here earlier. They said it is better here. So, we came,” Aman Ullah, a Rohingya refugee, said Saturday after his arrival on Bhasan Char.

Another said he came voluntarily.

“We were asked to come. And we came here at our own will,” said Mohammed Nuruddin.

The island, located 21 miles (34 kilometers) from the mainland, surfaced only 20 years ago and was not previously inhabited. It was regularly submerged by monsoon rains but now has flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques built at a cost of more than $112 million by the Bangladesh navy.