DHAKA: Bangladesh is moving ahead with a controversial plan to move Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island, with construction of facilities to begin "very soon."
About 100,000 of the one million or so Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh will be moved to Thengar Char, a remote, flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal by November 2019, according to details of the $278 million plan released by the office of Mustafa Kamal, Bangladesh's minister of planning.
Some 626,000 mainly Muslim Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since August, joining an existing Rohingya refugee population of up to 300,000. They say they've fled widespread violence perpetrated by the military in the north of Myanmar's Rakhine State.
The Myanmar military denies wrongdoing and says it's targeting terrorists responsible for killing security forces. The United Nations, the US and the UK have called the situation in Rakhine State "ethnic cleansing" and on Tuesday the UN human rights chief suggested that genocide "cannot be ruled out."
The international community has praised Bangladesh for taking in the refugees but its plan to move some of them to Thengar Char has been met with biting criticism.
The plan was approved by Bangladesh's Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, on November 28 and the same day Amnesty International called upon the Bangladeshi government to abandon the proposal, calling it a "terrible mistake."
"Having opened its doors to more than 600,000 Rohingya over the past three months, the Bangladesh government now risks undermining the protection of the Rohingya and squandering the international goodwill it has earned. In its desperation to see the Rohingya leave the camps and ultimately return to Myanmar, it is putting their safety and well-being at risk," said Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International's South Asia director.
The island is about 30,000 hectares (about 74,000 acres) in size, more than 37 miles from the mainland, officially uninhabited and mostly flooded during heavy rain or monsoon season, District Forest Officer Amir Hossain Chowdhury told CNN in January.