DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh has resurrected a plan to relocate thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine State to a flooded island in the Bay of Bengal to prevent them from “intermingling” with Bangladeshi citizens.
The United Nations says around 69,000 people have fled the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine to Bangladesh since attacks that killed nine Myanmar border police on Oct. 9, sparking a heavy-handed security response in which scores were killed.
Bangladesh first proposed the idea of sending the Rohingya to Thengar Char, which floods at high tide, in 2015, prompting anger among rights groups.
In a Jan. 26 notice on its website, Bangladesh’s cabinet said several panels were set up to examine the influx of Rohingya Muslims, which the country fears could lead to law and order issues as they mix with residents.
Dhaka was preparing a list of the people to be temporarily moved to Thengar Char before being sent back to Myanmar, it said.
“There’s a fear that the influx of Rohingya Muslims from time to time will lead to a degradation of law and order situation, spread communicable diseases ... and create various social and financial problems,” it added.
A Bangladesh home ministry official said the process to shift the Rohingya to the island would take time, adding, “If that place is not livable, the government will make it livable.”
International aid officials working with the refugees, now sheltered in the tourist resort of Cox’s Bazar, said they were surprised by the relocation plan and had sought clarification from the Bangladesh government. However, they declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the situation.
Hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012, exposing a lack of oversight of the military by the administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Many Myanmar Buddhists view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but an advisory panel of the Myanmar government said the refugee crisis was more than just a religious issue.
Three members of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State visited the refugees in Cox’s Bazar on Monday. They met government officials in the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday.
“There are many Muslims outside Rakhine ... they are Myanmar citizens,” one member, Ghassan Salame, told reporters on Tuesday. “There’s a religious dimension to the conflict, but there are also the issues of rights, citizenship, ethnicities, issues related to freedom of movement and the rule of law and human rights.”
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir and Antoni Slodkowski; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez