Bangladesh authorities are ready to move a second batch of Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal in the next few days, officials said on Sunday.
The transfer will take place despite calls by rights groups not to carry out any more relocations of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled Myanmar.
Around 1,000 Rohingya will be moved to the island after Bangladesh relocated more than 1,600 earlier this month, two officials with direct knowledge of the matter said.
“They will be moved to Chittagong first and then to Bhasan Char, depending on the high tide,” one of the officials, who declined to be named as the issue had not been made public, told Reuters.
The Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, Mohammed Shamsud Douza, said the relocation was voluntary. “They will not be sent against their will.”
The United Nations has said it has not been allowed to carry out a technical and safety assessment of Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal and is not involved in the transfer of refugees to the island which emerged from the sea only 20 years ago.
Bangladesh says it is transferring only people who are willing to go and the move will ease chronic overcrowding in camps that are home to more than one million Rohingya.
However, refugees and humanitarian workers say some of the Rohingya are being coerced into going to the island.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters earlier this month the UN should first assess and verify how conducive the environment in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is for repatriating the refugees, before carrying out any assessment of Bhasan Char.
Several attempts to start repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar have failed after they said they were too fearful of further violence to return.