Bangladesh has proposed to send tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a southern island in an attempt to solve the vast humanitarian crisis in South East Asia.
The bizarre plan, which has been laid out by the Bangladeshi government, aims at relocating 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who are sheltered in two refugee camps near the Myanmar border. If the project gets final approval, the asylum-seekers from one of the world's most persecuted groups would be moved to Hatiya island in the Bay of Bengal.
"The relocation of the Rohingya camps will definitely take place. So far informal steps have been taken according to the PM's directives," Secretary Amit Kumar Baul, head of the government's Myanmar Refugee Cell, told AFP.
However, a Rohingya leader appealed to the government to scrap the plans and invited Bangladesh and the international community to solve the refugees' problems in loco.
Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in segregated conditions in the western Rakhine state, where clashes with Buddhists in 2012 left about 200 people dead and tens of thousands displaced. They have been viewed as unwelcome migrants from Bangladesh during the last century by the Myanmar government and local Burmese.
The Bangladeshi government is concerned that the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar would hinder tourism in the area, where beach hotels and resorts have popped up in the past few years.
"The government has been paying [increasing] importance to the tourism sector. Therefore, a plan to relocate them to an isolated area is under process," Baul said.
In the height of the humanitarian crisis, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to stop turning away migrant boats and pledged to provide temporary shelter to Rohingya refugees. Nearly 3,000 migrants have been brought ashore or rescued off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Aid organisations such as the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have warned that thousands more are still lost at sea and are waiting to be rescued.
UNHCR representative to the Philippines, Bernard Kerblat said at least 2,621 migrants are drifting in stricken vessels at sea off the coast of Malaysia. But the figure could be much higher.
"Every hour which passes by, there are people in the high seas who need to be saved," Kerblat said at a news conference in Philippine capital Manila, according to al-Jazeera.
"As we speak, there are still thousands of men, women, children, elderly adrift in vessels most likely without fuel, most likely without water, most likely without food, who need to be brought to shore."