Rohingya community is reluctant to shift to remote Bhasan Char island citing fears of natural disasters there
By Md Kamruzzaman
Bangladesh is in the final phase to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote islet amid fears from the Myanmar’s persecuted community that they might be washed away in bad weather conditions.
The Bangladesh Navy’s implementation of the project, under the Prime Minister’s Office at an estimated budget of BDT 23.12 billion (over $280 million), is likely to be completed by 2019.
The budget of the huge project on Bhasan Char island has been fully funded by the Bangladesh government.
The islet, whose name means “floating island”, emerged from the Bay of Bengal in 2006 and is about 30 km (21 miles) from the mainland.
No journalists, workers of non-governmental organizations or any outsiders — not involved with the project — are allowed to visit the island.
However, an Anadolu Agency correspondent was able to visit the place very recently using a different channel.
It is seen during the field visit that the construction of almost all 1,440 mega housing settlements has been completed, excluding some external finishing. Every settlement is comprising of 16 rooms, six toilets, four bathrooms and eight gas stoves.
Inside each family room, there are two double-decker single bedsteads that is to say every room has the arrangement of four single beds.
Thus, the total number of such one-family-based room is 23,040 with the bedding facility for 92,160 people.
Each room has been prepared for four-member family. But most of the Rohingya families are comprised of more than four members, including kids and old members.
Every family will have a ceiling fan in their rooms, as well as a gas stove for cooking. This correspondent also observed that roads between the shelters are still under construction.
– Construction of state guesthouse
Besides, there is a plan to construct a total of 120 three-story cyclone shelters. There is also a plan of digging one pond for four mega houses that is to say for 64 families or 256 inhabitants.
Already a good number of ponds have been dug while the others were under process. A huge warehouse to store relief goods for Rohingya has been constructed, while the construction of another warehouse is being planned.
In order to protect the islet from natural disasters, especially from floods, two embankments, three meters in height and 13 kilometers in length, are also being constructed around Rohingya settlement project in the islet.
There are also 29 under construction light houses to monitor the whole project area, while the construction of a jetty is in the final phase.
The most attractive part of the whole project is the construction of a VIP state guesthouse, which workers called the Prime Minister’s House.
This three-story luxurious state guesthouse has been constructed with extra care as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is supposed to stay here for some time during the inauguration of the project.
The guesthouse will be later given to the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard, said internal sources involved with the project. The construction of quarters and messes for officials and staffers of the two forces are also in the final phase.
There are two helipads, one completed and another under construction, as part of the project.
For ensuring pure drinking water, a total of 1,680 tube wells have been set up, while 260 water tanks — including 20 tanks with the capacity of 2,000 liters, 48 tanks of 500 liters and 192 tanks of 300 liters capacity — have also been constructed, according to the project sources.
– Reluctance to shift
Most of the Rohingya refugees living in the squalid makeshifts at Bangladesh’s southeastern Cox’s Bazar area are afraid of shifting to distant island of Bhasan Char, reportedly prone to natural disasters.
Mohammad Zafar Hossain, 32, a Rohingya refugee at Kutupalang camp, told Anadolu Agency he would not shift to Bhasan Char. “Either I will go to my country with full rights or die here but I will not go there,” he said.
However, Gulzar Begum, 38, a Rohingya woman at the same camp, said she has no problem to shift to Bhasan Char if Bangladesh government assures them of safety from natural disasters.
“I’m frightened to go to Bhasan Char. It’s very far and isolated. We may be washed away any time,” said Madina Khatun, 50, a Rohingya mother of four children.
Ansar Ali, a community leader in the refugee camp, told Anadolu Agency that their main target is to go back to their motherland, Rakhine State, with due dignity and citizenship rights.
“We do not want to be settled in any remote island in Bangladesh to live another uncertain and prison-like life”, Ali said, adding that without sea there will be nothing around us.
According to a recent survey conducted by Bangladesh police, at least 87 percent of Rohingya refugees are unwilling to be relocated to the Bhasan Char islet, New Age, a local daily, reported.
However, a top official of an international NGO working for the development of coastal areas in Bangladesh, said peaceful repatriation is the best solution to this crisis.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity, the official said the relocation to Bhasan Char can be a temporary solution of this crisis as the life at filthy camps in Cox’s Bazar is really unbearable.
– Rohingya persecution
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled “Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience”.
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children, and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.