Plans to conduct the visit and potentially transfer Rohingyas to the island had been stalled due to bad weather and the Covid-19 pandemic
The first batch of Rohingyas from the cramped camps of Cox’s Bazar is set to visit and inspect Bhashan Char on Saturday.
The team of 40 Rohingyas includes majhis (local Rohingya leaders) and family members of the Rohingyas already sheltered on Bhashan Char, a remote island in an estuary of the Meghna river.
Plans to conduct the visit and potentially transfer Rohingyas to the island had been stalled due to bad weather and the Covid-19 pandemic, officials said.
“We are sending the team of around 40 Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar as the weather is now stable,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mahbub Alam Talukder told the Dhaka Tribune on Friday.
The Rohingya team will inspect the living conditions on Bhashan Char to determine if they are better than at the Cox’s Bazar camps. If the Rohingyas find the living conditions to be better on the island, it will help convince others from the camps to transfer there, officials said.
Earlier in May, the government sent some Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char after they were rescued from being stranded at sea for several weeks. The rescued refugees were taken to Bhasan Char as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus in the heavily crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Currently, about 306 Rohingyas are sheltered on the Island.
The Bangladesh government has developed the island to comfortably accommodate about 100,000 Rohingyas.
Sources in Cox’s Bazar confirmed to Dhaka Tribune that most of the Rohingyas on the visiting team are relatives of those now living in Bhashan Char. All of them underwent coronavirus tests for the visit.
On Friday, Noakhali district Deputy Commissioner Khorshed Alam Khan told the Dhaka Tribune that a team from RRRC had already arrived at Bhashan Char to take preparation to receive the first batch of visiting Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar.
“The Bangladesh Navy is taking care of the preparations,” he said.
The DC expected the Rohingyas already sheltered on the island to be doing well and that their families would be convinced to transfer to the island.
When contacted, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the visits will not only involve the Rohingyas, but also other dignitaries.
“We will also bring teams from United Nations and human rights groups so that they can also see the arrangements there,” he told this correspondent recently.
Chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights Mohibullah told Dhaka Tribune they have heard about Bhashan Char from many people, but never heard anything directly from authorities about relocating there.
“We do not reject the plan if it is prepared for Rohingyas, but we do not know this place. Our people are living in hilly areas, only a few of us live in coastal areas. So, we are afraid to stay near the coast or sea,” he said.
“If we can see the place, the condition of the land and environment, we will analyze if our people can stay there or not. But seeing the place physically is the first priority,” Mohibullah added.
What is the state of Bhashan Char?
The Bangladesh government has developed Bhashan Char island to accommodate 103,200 Rohingyas, while more than a million are currently sheltered in the camps in Cox's Bazar. Bangladesh Navy implemented the project.
Bhashan Char, also known as Thengar Char, is located 21 nautical miles from Noakhali, 11 nautical miles from Jahajir Char, 4.2 nautical miles from Sandwip, 28 nautical miles from Patenga, and 13.2 nautical miles from Hatia.
The only mode of commute for residents of Bhasan Char, located 30km away from the mainland, will be vessels that take three to three-and-a-half hours to travel from Hatia.
Despite the reservations of both Rohingyas and the international community, the government is still hopeful that the plan will help manage the massive refugee population in a disciplined manner.