Rohingyas in Bhasan Char: Govt plans tour for diplomats

The government is planning a foreign diplomats’ visit to Bhasan Char. Over 7,000 Rohingyas have already been relocated to the island from Cox’s Bazar and more will be joining them in the coming days.

“We are planning, especially for our friendly ambassadors who want to support us, a visit to Bhasan Char soon,” Commodore AA Mamun Chowdhury, project director of Ashryan-3 at Bhasan Char, told The Daily Star during a visit by a group of journalists to the project on February 9-10.

Bangladesh Navy has implemented the Tk 3,100 crore housing project at Bhasan Char in Noakhali’s Hatiya upazila for 100,000 Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar. The initiative was taken after some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017 and took shelter in Teknaf and Ukhia.

Apart from the risk of landslides in the hilly terrain, the government cited issues such as drug peddling, human trafficking, gender-based violence, conflicts between factions of the refugee communities in Cox’s Bazar, and environmental degradation as major reasons for the relocation to Bhasan Char.

While the UN and other international aid agencies have been reluctant to give thumps up to the project citing risks of tidal surge and cyclone, the government said 120 brick-built cluster villages and 120 cyclone shelters, facilities for education, hospital, farming and fishing, playground, and presence of law enforcers make it a much better living place for Rohingyas than the Cox’s Bazar camps.

The houses are built four feet above the ground while the height of the flood protection embankment around the project is now being raised from nine feet to 19 feet. So, there is no risk at all for those living in Bhasan Char, said Commodore Mamun.

Separate buildings for the UN and international aid agencies have also been constructed, he added.

Initially, after relocation of the first batch of Rohingyas in early December last year, some 22 NGOs volunteered to go there and provide humanitarian assistance. Later, 20 more joined them. All of them are spending from own fund.

The UN and other international aid agencies are yet to join the Bangladeshi NGOs. A western diplomat recently told this correspondent that the media reports suggest Bhasan Char is a good facility, but they cannot support it before a technical assessment is done by the UN.

Asked about it, Mamun said the ministries of foreign affairs and disaster management were coordinating on the issue.

Meanwhile, there is a pertinent question as to how long the Bangladeshi NGOs can continue to provide funding for the thousands of Rohingyas in Bhasan Char unless the international community comes forward to provide funding.

Mamun said foreign agencies are now willing to provide financial assistance to those being shifted to Bhasan Char, but they need physical presence.

“For this, we need to make a plan. We are doing it.”

Meanwhile, the local NGOs are providing skills training to the willing Rohingyas on sewing, embroidery, fishing, agriculture, poultry and dairy farming. Bangladesh Rural Development Board has also got involved in such activities in Bhasan Char.

“Once they get involved in these activities, the produce can be used for their consumption. They can also earn money,” Mamun said.

The Navy officer stressed on better coordination among various agencies under the supervision of the office of the Refugee Rehabilitation and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC).

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, a teacher of international relations at Dhaka University, said any communication gap between the government and UN over the Bhasan Char project should be resolved at the earliest.

He said Bangladesh as the host country has the right to shelter the refugees in locations best suited for it. The international community should congratulate Bangladesh for spent so much money of its own and preparing such a quality living facility for the Rohingyas in Bhasan Char.

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“All must remember that this is a temporary shelter for Rohingyas. The international community should continue to create pressure on Myanmar for the repatriation,” Imtiaz said