Once submerged Bangladeshi island ready to house 100,000 persecuted Rohingyas

United Nations and international aid agencies have vehemently opposed the relocation of Rohingya refugees to the Bangladeshi island of Bhasan Char

Bangladesh's island of Bhasan Char, located 34 km from the mainland, is ready with houses, hospital, mosques, in order to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees, living in Bangladesh. Though Bangladesh has on multiple occasions cited its plan to relocate refugees to the island, international aid agencies and the United Nations have vehemently opposed the idea.

Over a million Rohingyas took refuge in the South Asian nation, after being forced to flee their homes in Myanmar, in what is termed as a state-sponsored genocide.

About Bhasan Char

Rohingya refugees
Wikimedia Commons

Situated 34 km away from the mainland, Bhasan Char is situated in the Bay of Bengal. The island was formed just two decades ago, out of Himalayan silt. It is spanning an area of about 40 sq km and remains flooded from June to September, due to south-west monsoons.

The muddy silt island is extremely ecologically fragile, prone to floods, tropical cyclones and erosion.

100,000 Rohingyas to be relocated to Bhasan Char

In 2015, Bangladesh first announced its plan to develop settlements on the uninhabited Bhasan Char island, a plan described by the Human Rights Watch as "a human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making". But Bangladesh went on with the development, anyway.

"Bhasan Char is ready for habitation. Everything has been put in place," Bangladesh refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder said, Associated Press reported. The island has been developed to house 100,000 out of over a million Rohingyas living in Bangladesh. No date of their relocation has been reported.

On Thursday, two Bangladeshi contractors told AP, "We have built quality infrastructure. Bangladeshi villages have never seen such good work. This is like a modern township project". "We have built multi-family concrete homes, hospitals, mosques, schools, playgrounds and roads. There are solar-power facilities, a water supply system. We constructed raised concrete buildings that could be used as cyclone shelters. Many trees have been planted", they further added.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas live in the overcrowded refugee settlements in Cox's Bazar. These are unhygienic settlements, where crimes run high, with no prospect of education or jobs. Still, they live in such conditions, as its safer than returning home in Myanmar, where they've been subjected to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing.

International agencies vehemently opposed the plan

United Nations and other international aid agencies are opposing the plan, since its inception in 2015. On Thursday, Mostofa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, said "The UN 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".

According to experts, in case of a cyclone or a high tide, the island will be completely submerged.

Rohingyas prefer overcrowded Cox's Bazaar over better-facilitated Bhasan Char

According to a report published in Dhaka Tribune, the refugees fear that the regular flooding would cut them off the humanitarian aid, leading to starvation and deaths. A refugee living in Cox's Bazaar's refugee camp for over five years told reporters that if the government wants to improve their quality of life, they should do it in Cox's Bazaar, where majority of Rohingyas are already living.

"The new place is a death trap. Someone told me that island might go underwater anytime. There is also slim chance of humanitarian services of non-government organizations (NGOs) on that remote island", he said.

Another one of them said that they do not want to live in such "isolated places". There is so much water, we will drown eventually. It is better to die here than to move to Bhasan Char", he said. But, the government is trying to convince the refugee families, to relocate. "We are ready. This is a continuous process", Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh's top government official in Cox's Bazar, said on Thursday.