File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )
The Bhasan Char island, located in an estuary of the Meghna river and the Bay of Bengal, is all set to receive around one lakh Rohingyas
The Bhasan Char island, located in an estuary of the Meghna river and the Bay of Bengal, is all set to receive around one lakh Rohingya. They have been stationed at the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
The facilities on the island, developed by the Bangladesh Navy, are far better than those of the congested camps in Cox’s Bazar. Still, it remains for the Bangladesh government to convince the Rohingya and the United Nations about the relocation for various reasons.
Until two years ago, Bhasan Char was covered in a shroud of grass and mangrove trees. But now the desolate islet has taken a new look altogether with buildings painted pink. The island, which emerged in the Bay of Bengal in 2002, has been developed as an eco-friendly human habitat to relocate nearly 1 lakh Rohingya to relieve the overcrowded mainland camps in Cox's Bazar where around a million took shelter after fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.
On a visit to Bhasan Char, it was observed that the project had been implemented around the concept of cluster villages to house 101,360 Rohingya.
The Bangladesh Navy was given the responsibility to implement the project. Two British companies worked as consultants for onshore and offshore activities. The project was executed at a cost of about taka 3,100 crore.
All the buildings have been constructed four feet above the ground. Every cluster has 12 houses with 16 rooms and a four-storey steel-structure shelter station. There are 1,440 rooms and 120 shelter stations in 120 cluster villages. Every room can accommodate four people. In case of any calamity, 860 people can stay at the shelter stations which can withstand cyclones with speeds of about 260 kilometres an hour.
About the island’s vulnerability to cyclones, the project director says the embankment had been constructed after studying history and data of the last 176 years. Twelve kilometres of embankment at a height of nine feet had already been completed and work was under way to increase the height to nineteen feet.
According to Commodore Abdullah-al Mamun Chowdhury, director of the project, two 20-bed hospitals and four community clinics have been constructed. There is a police station and police post on the island. There are two playgrounds for the Rohingya children and there is some space available for playing in every cluster house.
There are also places for prayers, burials and markets. Accommodation has been made available for officials of the government, UN and NGOs. There are also two helipads. Trees are in abundance on the island.
The scope for earning an income is limited in the existing Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar. In contrast, there will be various avenues for means of livelihood on Bhasan Char. According to the Bangladesh Navy, the possible ways of earning can be fishing, poultry farming, sheep and cattle rearing, cultivation of rice and vegetables, carpentry, handicrafts, tailoring and providing different community services. The Bangladesh Navy has already planted paddy, vegetables and trees there.
Despite these developments, due to the objection of the Rohingya, the relocation process has got stuck and the government is concerned that this costly infrastructure might fall into disuse and consequent ruin if the relocation does not take place in a year and a half.
The UN has emphasised the importance of undertaking an independent and thorough technical and protection assessment of the site taking into account considerations of safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char.
An initial mission was scheduled in November but the UN and the government agreed to postpone the visit to ensure that the right experts are on hand and all necessary logistical arrangements in place before the team's visit.
Now the government is planning to fix another schedule for field visits. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina may also visit the island soon.