Officials have announced on Thursday, January 16, that an island in Bangladesh that was regularly submerged during monsoon seasons is ready to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees. No date has been set for the relocation.
“Bhasan Char is ready for habitation. Everything has been put in place,” Bangladesh refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder told The Associated Press.
Flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques have been built on Bhasan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal, officials said.
The island is built to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar.
About 700,000 people came after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against Rohingya in response to an attack by insurgents. Global rights groups and the U.N. called the campaign ethnic cleansing involving rapes, killings and torching of thousands of homes.
Foreign media have not been permitted to visit the island.
Saleh Noman, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist who recently visited, described a community emerging there.
“I saw a market with about 10 grocery shops and roadside tea stalls. Some were selling fish and vegetables,” he said. “All is set there with a solar power system and water supply lines.”
Bangladesh is a low-lying delta nation. The island, 21 miles (34 kilometres) from the mainland, surfaced only 20 years ago and was never inhabited.
The Bangladesh navy has been implementing a multimillion-dollar plan to bolster the swampy island, which was submerged for months during monsoon season.
International aid agencies and the United Nations have vehemently opposed the relocation plan since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.
Mostofa Mohamamd Sazzad Hossain, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, said Thursday the agency isn’t ready to endorse the relocation and is waiting for a chance to visit the island after a November trip was cancelled.
“The U.N. has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking into place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” Hossain said.
The current refugee camps near the beach town of Cox’s Bazar are overcrowded and unhygienic. Disease and organized crime are rampant. Education is limited and refugees aren’t allowed to work.
Still, most Rohingya have expressed an unwillingness to return to Myanmar, citing safety concerns. Government officials didn’t have an estimate of how many refugees would be willing to be relocated to the island.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly told the U.N. 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. (Source: Mainichi Japan)