Authorities in Bangladesh have said that they sent over two dozen Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited remote island after they entered the country in small boats following weeks at the sea.
“Some Rohingya entered in our Teknaf area in small boats. Our villagers detained some of them and informed the coast guard while some others fled. The coast guard took them to Bhasan Char last night,” Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told Efe news on Sunday.
The Minister could not provide the number of Rohingya ferried to the island, but a Coast Guard official, preferring to remain unnamed, said the group comprised 29 refugees.
The refugees are believed to be part of a group of 500 women, men, and children, who were stranded in the sea after Malaysian authorities refused to take them in.
The two trawlers were headed towards Bangladesh a week after an earlier vessel carrying nearly 400 Rohingya refugees arrived there on April 15.
The next day, Bangladesh authorities rescued 396 Rohingya who were trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after 58 days at sea.
Bangladesh said it would not accept any more Rohingya as its priority was now to protect the refugee camp area from the spread of coronavirus.
“We don’t want the virus to spread in the refugee camp. We are afraid if somehow coronavirus reaches in the camp, it will spread quickly,” said the Minister, adding that the newly-arrived Rohingya will stay in the island until their return to Myanmar.
The island, also known as Thengar Char, emerged from the sea about a decade ago. It covers an area of about 40 square kilometres.
It is accessible through motorboats only and is usually hit by monsoon floods.
Bangladesh undertook a project in November 2017 to develop the island under the responsibility of its navy and claimed to have built 1,440 housing structures, which can shelter some 100,000 people.
However, the plan to relocate the Rohingya to the island was halted in February amid criticisms from rights groups, who asked the authorities not to replace one humanitarian crisis with another.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March offered the facilities to the country’s poor, who wished to stay away from the coronavirus pandemic but an official in charge of any possible relocation said they received only one application for this.