Bangladesh again postpones refugee island relocation

27 February 2020
Bangladesh again postpones refugee island relocation
In this handout aerial photo taken on June 19, 2019 and released on October 21 by Mukta Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects shows buildings intended to accomodate members of the Rohingya refugee community on the silt islet Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal. Photo: AFP

Bangladesh has yet again shelved a controversial plan to relocate some 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, a minister said Wednesday.

Authorities have long sought to relocate some of the country's million-plus Rohingya population to Bhashan Char, despite warnings the silty strip of land was prone to violent and potentially deadly monsoon storms.

The move would take some pressure off the overcrowded border camps home to huge numbers of the persecuted and stateless Muslim minority, most of whom fled neighbouring Myanmar in 2017 after a military crackdown.

But rights groups say that some refugees had been coerced into agreeing to relocation and the plan has been staunchly opposed by the Rohingya community at large.

Junior disaster management minister Enamur Rahman said Bangladesh would increase its focus on diplomatic talks aimed at returning the refugees home.

"The relocation plan has been postponed," he told AFP, adding that there had been "much progress" in repatriation discussions with Myanmar with China acting as an intermediary.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have already signed a repatriation deal to send back some Rohingya to their homeland -- but safety fears mean very few have agreed to return.

Bangladesh's navy has spent years building homes, facilities and floodwalls on Bhashan Char at a cost of $280 million.