Human rights groups have called for halting the relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char and ensuring full and meaningful participation of the refugees in the process.
The call came as the government yesterday began relocating around 2,500 Rohingyas to the island, where Bangladesh Navy has prepared accommodation for one lakh Rohingyas under a housing project.
Government officials said nearly 1,000 Rohingyas left the camps in Cox's Bazar for the island in Noakhali's Hatiya in 20 buses.
The Tk 3,100-crore housing project was taken up in 2017, after about 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military campaign in Myanmar's Rakhine state and took shelter in heavily-congested camps in Ukhia and Teknaf.
Destruction of forests and hills and risk of landslides in Cox's Bazar prompted the authorities to choose the temporary housing site on the island, which is around 37 miles off the coast of Bay of Bengal.
UN and aid agencies were opposing the relocation plan, saying the island was flood-prone and could get submerged during tidal surges. Bangladesh officials, however, said the houses have been built four feet above the ground with concrete blocks and the entire housing site is protected by a 13km-long flood embankment.
On Wednesday, the UN in a statement said it was still waiting for the government to allow its technical team to visit the island and assess the feasibility of the Bhasan Char project.
In a statement yesterday, Human Rights Watch said the Bangladesh government should commit to a transparent relocation process, fully informed consent of transferred refugees, freedom of movement on and off the island, and heed the UN call for a prior independent technical and protection assessment.
"The Bangladesh government is actively reneging on its promise to the UN not to relocate any refugees to Bhasan Char island until humanitarian experts give a green light," said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, in the statement.
"If the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments."
Though the government claims that any relocation will be voluntary, Human Rights Watch said it has recently spoke with 12 families who said their names were on the list for the relocation, but that they had not willingly volunteered to relocate. Some refugees on the list have fled out of fear of forced relocation.
"Donor governments engaged in the Rohingya crisis response such as the US, UK, Japan, Australia, and Canada should take a clear stand against this rash move to relocate Rohingyas to Bhasan Char," Adams said.
"Decisions to move after the completion of technical assessments need to be voluntary and fully informed."
In the statement, the HRW also said some refugees said that they willingly volunteered to go to Bhasan Char because they were told by the majhis and CiC volunteers that they would be able to choose livelihood opportunities, such as fishing or farming, that they would have better access to health facilities, and that their children would get education.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International's South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi has said the relocation of so many Rohingya refugees to a remote island, which is still off limits to everyone, including rights groups and journalists without prior permission, poses grave concerns about independent human rights monitoring.
"Bangladesh and other members of the international community have a critical role not only in protecting the rights of the Rohingya people but also in ensuring their full and meaningful participation in decisions that affect them," Amnesty International said.
Fortify Rights said articles 9 and 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party, protects the rights to liberty and freedom of movement, respectively. These rights apply equally to refugees, who should never be detained solely on the basis of their immigration status, it added.