DHAKA: A group of Rohingya became the first refugees to be sent to the Bangladeshi island of Bhasan Char on Sunday after being rescued from the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh has spent around $300 million to make the island habitable for 100,000 Rohingya in a bid to decongest overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar, with a total of 120 cluster villages to accommodate refugees fleeing persecution. Most fled from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State following a brutal military crackdown.
Police Superintendent Mohammad Alamgir Hossain told Arab News that a group of 29 Rohingya were ferried to Bhasan Char at around 2.30 a.m, but said there were no further details about them as the island was still under naval supervision.
Foreign Minister Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen said the refugees had been brought to Bangladesh on small boats after locals informed the coast guard that they had seen them floating at sea.
“The rescued Rohingya were sent to Bhasan Char,” Momen told Arab News. “We rescued them only on humanitarian grounds. We don't want a single more Rohingya. Instead of putting Bangladesh under pressure, the international community should create more pressure on Myanmar to create favorable living conditions for them in their own land.”
He added that UN authorities “should look after” the well-being of the refugees who had been moved to Bhasan Char, and that Bangladesh would discuss the matter with them.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) had no official information of the whereabouts of the rescued Rohingya as of Sunday afternoon, according to its Cox’s Bazaar spokesperson Louise Donovan.
“We are seeking further information from the relevant authorities at this time, following reports that a group of newly arrived refugees may be transferred to Bhasan Char,” she told Arab News.
Each Bhasan Char house has concrete rooms measuring 2m x 2.5m, with small windows and a toilet, for 11 people. The current ratio in Cox’s Bazar camps stands at 1:22, and there are around 1.5 million refugees living there.
A plan to relocate the first batch of Rohingya was postponed last November after the UN raised questions about the safety measures and living conditions on the island. Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006.
Several international rights organizations urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones. There are 120 cyclone shelters that have been built 4ft above ground, and these will be used as hospitals, schools, and community centers throughout the year.
“The UN’s long-standing position is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before any relocations to the island take place. The UN has long been prepared to proceed with onsite assessment work,” Donovan said.
Momen said the island was a “safe place” and that even “resorts can be built there to attract tourists” in the future.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all of them have been denied citizenship for decades, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.