More than 103,000 Rohingya out of over a million who fled Myanmar will be moved to Bhashan Char but international groups warn that the move could be risky.
Bangladesh will relocate over 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote islet by mid-April, a government minister confirmed on Sunday, but there are fears the chosen site is less than ideal.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week instructed completion of the relocation of 23,000 Rohingya families to Bhashan Char by April 15,” local media quoted Md Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster and relief management, saying after meeting with Earl Robert Miller, the US ambassador to Bangladesh.
To make the islet liveable, all facilities — including housing, power, communication, healthcare, storm surge protection, and cyclone shelter centres — have been provided, Rahman added.
International groups and rights bodies including the UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, however, have repeatedly warned the move could be risky and urged Bangladesh to go through the project with Rohingya refugees on a voluntary basis and with due clarification.
Rahman said a meeting had been held at the prime minister’s office to address the concerns and another is scheduled for March 6.
Under the government plan, he said, over 103,000 Rohingya out of over a million who fled Myanmar will be moved to Bhashan Char at an estimated cost of over $275.3 million (23.12 billion Bangladeshi taka), fully managed by Bangladesh's government.
TRT World spoke to Dhaka-based journalist Tanvir Chowdhury for more details.
Until the Rohingya resettlement project began one year ago, the islet was apparently uninhabited, mostly used for cattle grazing and as a hub for pirates.
The islet emerged from the Bay of Bengal in 2006 and is about 30 kilometres from the mainland, and 52 km from the southern Noakhali district.
In 2013, the area was declared a forest reserve. Motorboats are the only mode of travel to the island.
Around 1,350 acres of land — 432 acres occupied and 918 acres vacant — were proposed for the Rohingya rehabilitation project.
However, the journey to Bhasan Char is a difficult and during bad weather can be a dangerous trip.
The average elevation of Bhasan Char is 2.84 metres above mean sea level, according to Bangladesh Naval sources.
Some local and international media reported it takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Bhasan Char from the nearest land, Noakhali, or the nearest inhabited island, Hatia, via trawler or motorboat. The island is also prone to river erosion.
But last fall Anadolu Agency found it took more than two hours to reach the island by motorboat from either Hatia or Noakhali.
According to Forest Department data and available information, a part of the island disappears into the sea every year due to erosion.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalised, it added.
The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings —including of infants and young children — brutal beatings and dis appearances committed by Myanmar state forces.
In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.