As work progresses on turning Bhashan Char into a rehabilitation centre for Rohingya refugees, public representatives and administration officials have moved to calm the fears of locals by saying surveillance activities will increase once the Rohingya are settled.
The Bangladesh Navy has recently been given the responsibility to develop 13,000 acres of land on the char to create temporary accommodation for up to 70,000 Rohingya refugees within the next two years.
But that has panicked people living on Hatiya Island and along the coastal belt of Noakhali, who fear a spike in crime and other anti-social behaviour.
“Patrolling by the police, the coastguard and the navy will intensify in Bhashan Char if the Rohingya are rehabilitated there,” Deputy Inspector General Manir-uz-Zaman of Chittagong range said. “The island and river will become much safer then.”
Bhashan Char, also known as Thengar Char, is located in the estuary of the Meghna river. Under ideal weather conditions, it takes about 90 minutes to reach Hatiya Island from Noakhali on the mainland, from where a speedboat takes 30 minutes more to get to the Char.
Ayesha Ferdaus, the lawmaker from Noakhali 6 (Hatiya) constituency, said local people should have no fear as the new centre will be focused on helping the Rohingya to recover from their traumatic experiences.
“Through arranging employment after providing them with counselling, the Rohingya will be helped to return to a normal life. There is nothing to worry about,” he said.
Delegations of high-ups from the government and experts from government and non-government organisations have been visiting the area every day to check on progress in the challenging project.
Many of Bhashan Char’s low-lying areas have already been filled with sand and the height of the ground raised in several spots to protect the new centre from river erosion or floods. The sand bar was previously uninhabited.
Helipads, pontoons and roads are among the new infrastructure under construction to improve accessibility and facilitate internal communication on the island.
Chittagong’s Divisional Commissioner Abdul Mannan said: “We are doing experiments to get a clear idea about how liveable Bhashan Char is or if it would be vulnerable to climate change. Nonetheless, these are all still in the primary stage.”
The recent influx of the Rohingya fleeing brutal persecution by the Myanmar army in Rakhine state prompted the Bangladesh government to assign its navy to the rehabilitation camp project.
Captain Aminul Islam Khan of the navy, also the in-charge of Bhashan Char Rohingya Rehabilitation Project, said the Char would be a modern refugee camp.
“All kind of facilities including educational institutions, hospitals, recreational centres and playgrounds will be here,” he said.
The in-charge said the Rohingya refugees will be brought to the camp in phases, with as many as 120,000 rehabilitated initially. However, the navy did not clarify how long it could take to bring in the Rohingya.
Finance Division officials have said the estimated Tk1,000 crore project will be funded entirely by the government and will include the major challenge of damming the char to protect it from regular flooding by seawater.
The government in February had announced its plans to rehabilitate the refugees who began arriving from Myanmar in October 2016, drawing some criticism internationally.
A UN estimate says the latest exodus starting on August 25 had seen around 480,000 Rohingya people enter into Bangladesh until Tuesday.
The article was first published on Bangla Tribune