Thousands of Rohingya refugees are relocated to an island in the Bay of Bengal, a move that has been criticised by the UN and humanitarian groups.
The United Nations and Bangladesh have signed an agreement to work together to help Rohingya refugees on an island in the Bay of Bengal where thousands have been relocated from crammed camps near the Myanmar border.
More than 19,000 Rohingya have already been moved to the Bhasan Char island by the government, and the UN said on Saturday that one of the key reasons to sign the agreement was to start serving that population.
Bangladesh plans to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to the island in phases from the crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district.
The agreement came as a paradigm shift after the UN and humanitarian groups criticised the relocation, saying the 30-year-old island regularly submerged by monsoon rains was not fit for habitation.
But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has spent more than $112 million on development, adding sea walls, hospitals, schools and mosques, and insists it is no more a vulnerable area.
READ MORE: Number of Rohingya moved to remote Bangladesh island tops 10,000
Thousands more to be relocated
After Saturday's agreement, authorities said another 81,000 refugees would be relocated to the island over next three months.
The agreement allows for close cooperation between the government and the UN on services and activities to benefit the island's residents. The UN also said it had discussions with Rohingya living in Cox's Bazar as well as those already living on Bhasan Char island, prior to signing of the agreement.
“These cover key areas of protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for sustainable return to Myanmar in the future,” according to the statement.
Johannes Van Der Klaauw, representative at the UNHCR, said the agreement allows refugees to move back and forth between the island and the main camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Refugees will also have a chance to earn a living through odd jobs that will be accessible once aid organisations set up on the island.
Klaauw also noted that movement to Bhasan Char would be on an informed and voluntary basis.
But most Rohingya refugees say they don’t want to relocate.
Bangladesh has been sheltering 1.1 million Rohingya from Myanmar, including more than 700,000 who fled a harsh military crackdown on the Muslim ethnic group in August 2017 following an attack by insurgents.
The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens in Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.