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Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite criticism

 More than 1,400 Rohingya Muslim refugees set sail for a remote island in the Bay of Bengal on Saturday, a Bangladeshi navy official said, despite opposition from human rights groups concerned about the site's vulnerability to storms and floods.

They bring to at least 6,700 the number of Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar that Bangladesh has sent to Bhasan Char Island since early December, from border camps where a million live in ramshackle huts.

"We are ready to welcome the new arrivals," Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, the island's officer in charge, told Reuters by phone.

Five boats left with the Rohingya and their belongings after they were transferred from the camps to the nearby port city of Chittagong, he said.

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite criticism

Bangladesh on Friday moved 1,776 Rohingya to the island, which emerged from the sea just two decades ago and is several hours' drive from the southern port.

The Rohingya, a minority group that fled the violence in Myanmar, mostly Buddhist, cannot leave the island without permission from the government.

Bangladesh says the relocation is voluntary, but some of the first group of refugees, moved in December, spoke of being coerced. The government also says that overcrowding in camps in the Cox's Bazar district fuels crime.

He has dismissed concerns about flooding on the island, citing the construction of a 12 km (7.5 mile) stretch of embankment that is 2 meters (6.5 feet) high, as well as housing for 100,000 people, hospitals and cyclone centers.

Bangladesh has been criticized for its reluctance to consult with the United Nations refugee agency and other aid agencies about transfers. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the agency has not been allowed to assess the safety and sustainability of life on the island.

"We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the government regarding its Bhasan Char project, including the technical and protection evaluations proposed by the UN," he said in an email.

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