A batch of around 2,500 Rohingyas are set to arrive at Bhashan Char on December 4
The governmental authorities are at the final stage of preparations to relocate the first official batch of Rohingyas from overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char.
Although no official date has been declared yet, sources involved in the process said the Rohingyas were set to arrive at the remote island on December 4, if the weather remained calm.
The batch will include around 2,500 Rohingyas who have voluntarily agreed to relocate to the island after considering the facilities and amenities available there, the sources added.
Rohingya Refugee Repatriation Commission (RRRC) Commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat told Dhaka Tribune that a small group of Rohingyas were relocating in the first phase and the process would continue over time.
He declined to provide a specific date for the relocation, saying it had not been fixed yet.
The Bangladesh Navy developed the facilities on Bhashan Char Island for the relocation of a little over 100,000 Rohingyas to ensure better living for them compared to congested camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The government has long been planning to relocate the Rohingyas to the island. However, some Rohingyas and the United Nations are not convinced about the relocation.
On September 5, the government organized a three-day “visit and see” program, where 40 Rohingya refugees from the Cox’s Bazar camps were allowed to inspect the facilities.
On November 16, representatives from 22 local non-government organizations were taken for a visit to Bhashan Char under the supervision of the NGO Affairs Bureau. The NGOs were asked to submit project proposals for operations on the island.
“The NGOs affairs bureau has offered us any help necessary if we launch operations there,” said a member of an NGO who was a part of the visit.
“We have already launched facilities on the island, keeping in mind the arrival of more Rohingyas on the island. Primarily, we are taking preparations to serve the Rohingyas for a month,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Monday.
He added that all the Rohingyas to be relocated in the first batch were going there voluntarily.
A total of 306 Rohingyas have been staying on the island since they were rescued from the sea in April.
Preparations at Bhashan Char
All government offices involved in providing services at Bhashan Char are completing the final stages of preparations to welcome the first official batch of Rohingyas to the island.
Mohammad Khorshed Alal Khan, deputy commissioner of Noakhali, said the authorities had taken all-out preparations to host the Rohingyas on the island.
“Different appointments are ongoing as well. We have also prepared enough relief for the first batch of Rohingyas,” he said.
Mahbub Morshed Liton, chairman of Hatiya upazila, said it was a matter of great pleasure that all the Rohingyas scheduled for arrival in Bhashan Char were going there voluntarily.
“About 2,500 Rohingyas will be relocated here on December 4,” he said.
Noakhali Superintendent of Police M Alamgir Hossain said 67 policemen were deployed on Bhashan Char when the 306 Rohingyas were taken there.
“Now, we have deployed an additional 212 policemen to ensure the security of the Rohingyas on the island,” he said.
A police station had been constructed on the island and it would start functioning once official approval was given, he added.
Dr Farid Hossain Miah, director (hospitals and clinics) of the Directorate General of Health Services, said two hospitals and four community clinics had been set up on the island to serve the Rohingyas.
A four-member delegation from the DGHS would arrive at the island on December 4 and a 20 bed hospital and a community clinic would be opened on Dec 2, he added.
The government is currently determined to go ahead with the relocation of nearly 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char Island in order to decongest the cramped Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The country is currently hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas, most of whom arrived in Cox’s Bazar after fleeing atrocities in Rakhine state of Myanmar from August 25, 2017.
A repatriation deal was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, 2017 and both countries inked a document on the “Physical Arrangement” to facilitate the return of the Rohingyas to their homeland in January 2018.
However, no Rohingyas have been repatriated so far.
Rights defenders concerned
The Bangladeshi authorities must abandon plans to relocate more than 100 Rohingya families to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, which has not yet been declared safe for human habitation by the United Nations and where many refugees are still reluctant to relocate, said Amnesty International.
Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International, on November 20 said: “Aside from the fact that Bhashan Char has not been deemed safe for human habitation by the UN, there are serious questions over this relocation procedure.
“Many of the Rohingya we have spoken to have not given full and informed consent to being moved to an island they know nothing about.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must let the UN carry out an assessment of Bhashan Char and immediately return the hundreds of Rohingya refugees currently on the island to their families in Cox’s Bazar,” he added.
Amnesty International also called for unfettered access to Bhashan Char for rights and humanitarian organizations to carry out independent assessments.
On September 21, in a letter to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, five human rights organizations requested the government to facilitate and provide access to Bhashan Char, including unfettered access to meet with Rohingyas.
The five organizations are Amnesty International, Refugees International, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, Fortify Rights and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
The request included timely access for a UN protection team, as well as for a UN-led technical team, to review the sustainability and environmental conditions on the island.