Bhashanchar ready for Rohingya relocation

Diplomatic Correspondent

18 January, 2020 12:00 AM printer

The government has completed all preparations to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to an island, but no date yet been announced to start shifting of the Myanmar nationals who have crossed from the northern Rakhine state since the end of August 2017.

The island, known as Bhashanchar, is in Hatiya Upazila of Noakhali district and located in the Bay of Bengal, 37 kilometers from the coast. The island was prepared to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of over one million Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar.

Government officials told the Daily Sun that flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques have been built on Bhashanchar and is fully ready for habitation.

A senior official, who wanted not to be quoted, told this correspondent that they have built quality infrastructure, and Bangladeshi villages have never seen such good infrastructure. This is like a modern township project,” he said.

Officials said the government is constructing a four-storey building on Bhashanchar for the UN and aid agency representatives to ensure effective monitoring of humanitarian activities for one lakh Rohingya refugees to be relocated to the island from Cox’s Bazar.

The government is also increasing the height of the flood-protection embankment around Bhashanchar housing project from the present nine feet to 19 feet. These are part of the 43 new infrastructure components meant to improve the facilities on Bhashanchar under a revised project.

Sources said a market with about a dozen of grocery shops and roadside tea stalls are presently seen in the island. People were also seen selling fish and vegetables in the Bhashanchar. All is set there with a solar power system and water supply lines.

The housing project on the 40 square km Bhashan Char was initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office after vast tracts of forests and hills in Cox’s Bazar were damaged due to around 1.1 million Rohingyas being housed there. Besides, there were also risks of landslides in Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier said that putting Rohingya on the island would be a “temporary arrangement” to ease congestion at the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The Bangladesh Navy, which is implementing the project, completed the construction of 120 cluster villages on the island. Officials at the Disaster Management Ministry said the concrete houses built were constructed four feet above the ground. The entire housing site is protected by a huge flood embankment.

There are also 120 cyclone shelters, which will also be used as schools, medical centres and community centres. Disaster management ministry officials said there are large swathes of land that could be used for livestock farming and fisheries on Bhashanchar. There will also be education facilities in Bhashanchar as well, along with eight speedboats which will be used for transit.

However, sources at the UNHCR office in Dhaka said the UN relief agency is not ready to endorse the relocation and is waiting for a chance to visit the island after a November trip was cancelled.

The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues before any relocation taking into place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasanchar, they said.

The current refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are overcrowded and unhygienic. Disease and organized crime are rampant. Education is limited and refugees are not allowed to work.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly told the UN and other international partners that her administration will consult them before making a final decision on the relocation and that no refugees will be forced to move.

Bangladesh attempted to start sending refugees back to Myanmar under a bilateral framework in November last year, but no one was willing to go. The Rohingyas, who are not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, demanded that they would not return without their citizenship and safety and security under UN supervision.

A UN Fact-Finding Mission in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya.

Myanmar is defending itself in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, after the West African nation of Gambia brought a case backed by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Canada and the Netherlands.

 The Gambia in its submission said there was a “serious and imminent risk of genocide recurring” and called for emergency measures to prevent Myanmar from committing any further atrocities or erasing any evidence. The court is expected to deliver a decision on January 23 on what measures should be imposed.