DHAKA:  Bangladesh approved a controversial $280 million project to transform a desolate island off its southern coast into a temporary camp for 100,000 Rohingya refugees yesterday, despite warnings the site is uninhabitable.

The announcement comes just days after Bangladesh signed an agreement to repatriate to Myanmar the Rohingya refugees languishing in overburdened camps along its border. A government economic council chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave the greenlight to the planned redevelopment of Bhashan Char island, a project that has attracted fierce criticism since being first proposed in 2015.

Planning Secretary Ziaul Islam said it was hoped the island would be ready from May to accommodate some of the more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims that have crossed the border in the past three months. “Approximately one lakh (100,000) people will be shifted there for the time being. We hope the project work will be completed by 2018,” he told AFP.