DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh is sticking to a plan to relocate Rohingya Muslims, who fled Myanmar in the face of persecution, from overcrowded and unhealthy camps in a southern coastal district to a low-lying island still not ready for people to live there.
The relocation plan has caused worries among the Rohingya, and some human rights groups and the United Nations have expressed reservations about it because of the geographical nature of the proposed location.
Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali briefed about 60 diplomats and representatives of various agencies including the United Nations and sought their help to relocate the Rohingya to Thengar Char in southeastern Bangladesh from several camps in the southern coastal district of Cox's Bazar, a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late Sunday.
"The relocation will take place only after the development activities are completed," the statement said, referring to facilities such as homes, schools and hospitals.
Government officials have already said authorities were surveying the area.
More than 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have been living in Bangladesh for decades while about 66,000 more have crossed the border since October amid renewed persecution and targeted attacks by soldiers and majority Buddhists in Rakhine state.
Rohingya who have fled recently said soldiers and Buddhists have torched homes, raped women and killed Rohingya after unidentified people killed nine border police in Myanmar. The violence sparked international condemnation of Myanmar while Bangladesh has struggled to accommodate the groups of Rohingya who crossed the border.
The statement said existing accommodations were "already overstretched, (and) arranging shelter for the new arrivals has become a new challenge for the authorities."
The minister told the diplomats that the large number of refugees made it difficult for authorities to provide adequate assistance, and had caused socio-economic, environmental and security problems.
He asked for international support to develop the island and to move the refugees there, and eventually their repatriation back to Myanmar, the statement said.
The diplomats did not speak to the media after the meeting.
Thengar Char island is in the estuary of the River Meghna and emerged from the sea only eight years ago. It becomes flooded during any storm that causes a tidal surge.
Human rights groups and the U.N. have criticized the government's relocation plan.
On Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report that Myanmar's army and border guards had taken part in gang rapes and sexual assaults in at least nine villages in Maungdaw district from Oct. 9 to the middle of December.
"These horrific attacks on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Burmese military's long and sickening history of sexual violence against women," said Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher with Human Rights Watch.
The group demanded an international inquiry.