Island ready to house Rohingya

  • Bangladesh
  • Saturday, 18 Jan 2020

Poor living arrangements: A Rohingya refugee hanging a blanket out to dry at the Balukhali camp near Cox’s Bazar. The camps in this area have been reported to be overcrowded and unhygienic. — AP

DHAKA: A Bangladeshi island regularly submerged by monsoon rains is ready to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees, but no date has been announced to relocate them from the crowded and squalid camps where they have lived for years, officials said.

Flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques have been built on Bhasan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal, officials said on Thursday.

“Bhasan Char is ready for habitation. Everything has been put in place,” Bangladesh refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder said.

The island is built to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of the one million Rohingya Muslims who have fled violent persecution in their native Myanmar.

About 700,000 people came after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown against Rohingya in response to an attack by insurgents.

Global rights groups and the United Nations called the campaign ethnic cleansing involving rapes, killings and torching of thousands of homes.

Foreign media have not been permitted to visit the island.

Saleh Noman, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist who recently visited the island, described a community emerging there.

“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.”

Bangladesh is a low-lying delta nation. The island, 34km from the mainland, surfaced only 20 years ago and was never inhabited.

The Bangladesh navy has been implementing a multi-million-dollar plan to bolster the swampy island, which is submerged for months during the annual monsoon season.International aid agencies and the UN have opposed the relocation plan since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.

Mostofa Mohamamd Sazzad Hossain, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, said on Thursday that the agency was not ready to endorse the relocation and was waiting for a chance to visit the island after a November trip was cancelled.

“The UN has emphasised 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 on-site visits to Bhasan Char,” he said.

The current refugee camps near the beach town of Cox’s Bazar are overcrowded and unhygienic, while disease and organised crime are rampant. Education is limited and refugees are not allowed to work.

Still, most Rohingya are unwilling to return to Myanmar due to safety concerns. — AP

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