A Bangladeshi island, Bhasan Char which remains submerged during monsoon seasons is now ready to house nearly 100,000 Rohingya refugees. Even though no official date has been decided to accommodate a part of the total 700,000 Rohingyas living in the country, the officials said on January 16 that relocation of people from crowded swamps on country's border has begun. Flood protection facilities, houses, hospitals, and mosques have been built in the floating island in the Bay of Bengal.
The Bangladesh refugee relief commissioner, Mahbub Alam Talukder told an international media agency that island is “ready for habitation” and “everything has been put in place”.
Thousands of Rohingyas fled native Myanmar after violent persecution. It was after August 2017 that 700,000 people left Buddhist-majority Myanmar when the country launched a counterinsurgency campaign against the community in retaliation to an attack by insurgents.
Global rights groups and the United Nations had called the campaign ethnic cleansing, that involved rapes, killings, and setting thousands of homes ablaze. Reportedly, foreign media has been prohibited from visiting Bhasan Char. A Bangladesh freelance journalist, Saleh Noman who recently visited the island explained the community emerging there with shos and tea stalls.
“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.”
Since Bangladesh is a low-lying delta nation, it was only 20 years ago when Bhasan Char had surfaced, 34 kilometres away from the mainland. Bangladeshi navy is currently implementing a multimillion-dollar plan to bolster the island which remains submerged for months during the monsoon season. However, international aid agencies and the UN have opposed the relocation of the refugees since it was first proposed in 2015 due to the fear of storm which could put thousands of lives in danger.
A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, Mostofa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain said on January 16 that the agency is not ready to support the relocation until a chance to visit Bhasan Char is given. A similar trip was planned in November last year but 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.
(With AP inputs)