Exclusive: U.N. draws up plans to ‘facilitate’ Rohingya relocation to island

YANGON (Reuters) – The United Nations is making plans to help Bangladesh relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island off its coast, documents seen by Reuters show, a move opposed by many refugees and that some human rights experts fear could spark a new crisis.

Bangladesh says transporting refugees to Bhasan Char – a Bay of Bengal island hours by boat from the mainland – will ease chronic overcrowding in its camps at Cox’s Bazar, which are home to more than 1 million Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority who have fled neighboring Myanmar.

Humanitarian and human rights groups have criticized the relocation proposal, saying the island is flood-prone, vulnerable to frequent cyclones and could be completely submerged during a high tide.

A document drawn up by the World Food Programme (WFP), the U.N.’s food aid arm, shows the agency has supplied the Bangladesh government with detailed plans – including a timeline and budget – of how it could provide for thousands of Rohingya transported to the island within weeks. It stresses that any relocation should be voluntary and done “in accordance with humanitarian principles and code of conduct”.

The document, labeled as a “Concept of Operations” and dated March 12, outlines how the organization and its partners “may facilitate the identification, staging, forward movement, reception, and sustainment of refugees” on Bhasan Char, estimating an initial appeal for donor funding of between $8.6 and $19 million.

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