Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The Bangladeshi government yesterday announced plans to move thousands of Rohingya refugees to Hatiya Island, a few kilometres off the coast in the Bay of Bengal, from the camps where they are currently held.
"The relocation of the Rohingya camps will definitely take place. So far, informal steps have been taken according to the PM's directives," said Amit Kumar Baul, head of the government's Myanmar Refugee Cell.
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.
Baul said that the government wants to move them to Hatiya Island in the Bay of Bengal in a plan backed by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. The relocation was partly motivated by concerns the camps were holding back tourism in Cox’s Bazar, home to a 125km-long sandy beach.
“The government has been giving importance to the tourism sector,” Baul said. “Therefore, a plan to relocate them to an isolated area is under way.”
A Rohingya leader urged the government to rethink the operation, saying it would only make life worse for the refugees.
"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 Agence France Presse.
In fact, "The success of the [government] plan would depend on what will be on offer in the new location and if the refugees would like to be there," UNHCR spokeswoman Onchita Shadman told AFP. A forced relocation would be "very complex and controversial", she added.
Details of Bangladesh's plans emerged just days after Hasina slammed Bangladesh's own economic migrants, many of whom are still in desperate conditions in the high seas, calling them "mentally sick" and accusing them of hurting the country's image.