Bangladesh: Sense of new beginning as Rohingyas head to Bhasan Char island

Written By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi Published: Dec 04, 2020, 11.52 PM(IST)

Bangladesh ships Rohingya refugees Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

In 2017 after the Rohinga crackdown, Bangladesh welcomed the families that had fled genocide in Myanmar. 3 years on, when Bangladesh is trying to relocate them to a planned shelter should foreign agencies be complaining?

International organisations are slamming Bangladesh for relocating nearly 1600 Rohingya refugees from Cox's Bazar to the island of Bhasan Char. Are they right in doing so?

In 2017 after the Rohinga crackdown, Bangladesh welcomed the families that had fled genocide in Myanmar. 3 years on, when Bangladesh is trying to relocate them to a planned shelter should foreign agencies be complaining?

In Bangla, Bhasan Char means a floating island. At least 1,600 Rohingya refugees have sailed here from Chittagong, after a 160-km bus ride from Cox's Bazar where they have been camping for years.

The govt of Bangladesh has spent USD 12 million to develop infrastructure in Bhasan Char. It hopes that the island will eventually host 100,000 refugees. Shelters, dams, education and healthcare facilities have been set up for them.

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But the efforts are not exactly being celebrated. Some international organisations say Rohingyas are being moved to Bhasan char without their consent. They are also pointing at the island's distance from the mainland. 

The govt of Bangladesh maintains that despite being 21 miles from the mainland, Bhasan Char has sufficient facilities and livelihood options. Adding that the relocation is aimed at avoiding overcrowding in Cox's Bazar. What about the Rohingyas?  Were they happy in leaving their Cox's Bazar shelters?

"We are not happy at the camps. If we go back to Myanmar, we may have our people but we don't have anything there to prove our citizenship. So, we didn't agree to go back. We heard from seniors as well as the television that we'll get much more facilities at Bhashan char," said Boni Adam, a Rohingya refugee

Cox's Bazar happens to be among Bangladesh's most vulnerable areas. The camps there have become unhygienic and unsafe. There is no planning, just abundant crime.

The situation has been worsened by contamination and mismanagement of water. The Bhasan Char, on the other hand, is well-santised, well-protected, and has abundant space. 700,000 Rohingyas fled myanmar in 2017 following a military-led genocide. Bangladesh has been hosting the refugees since.

In 2019, Bangladesh's foreign minister said - that his govt spends 3.6 billion dollars annually in providing for the Rohingyas.

Dhaka is now looking at improving the living conditions and also making their lives more sustainable. Should people on the outside be complaining? When those shifting homes aren't all that skeptical?

"The Bangladesh government has given us assurance of a better life there - they will give us a good environment, food and shelter - and so we are going there. In the Kutupalong camps, there are eight to ten lakh (800,000 to 1 million) people living in bad conditions, so crowded. So to get rid of that situation we are going," said a refugee.

There is a sense of a new beginning on the ground at Bhasan Char. Bangladesh will eventually let international organisations visit the island. Starting afresh is never easy, especially for a community that has seen so much and lost so much. But it is never too late.

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