Bangladesh relocating Rohingyas to isolated Bhasan Char island

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The government of Bangladesh has started a controversial program to relocate Muslim Rohingya refugees who escaped from persecution in Myanmar to the small isolated island Bhasan Char that is particularly vulnerable to storms and has never been permanently inhabited.

Despite claims by the government in Dhaka that the resettlement is voluntary, refugees interviewed by CNN said they were being forced and beaten when refused.

The sedimentary 40-sq. kilometer island was discovered 18 years ago and has only ever occasionally served as a shelter for smugglers and pirates. Although the island has been considered unsafe for living due to its constant shape-changing as sand deposits shift, Bangladesh has build flood barriers and insists the island is safe.

Rohingyas say they are descendants of Muslim traders who have lived in the region for generations; Myanmar says they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, making them stateless people.

Nearly one-million Rohingyas have escaped discrimination and persecution in Myanmar, and Bangladesh plans on resettling as many as 100,000 to the island. Once there, they will have little chance of leaving, say human rights groups, fearing the island will flood and they will die.

By Milan Sime Martinić