By Sumi Khan
Dhaka, Dec 5 (IANS) A total of 1,642 Rohingyas of Bangladesh are settling in after arriving at Bhashan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal under Hatiya upazila of Noakhali which is their new home now, during the first phase of relocation, in what may be called a milestone in Bangladesh’s handling of the Rohingya crisis.
A convoy of 19 vessels transferred the Rohingyas from Chittagong on Friday including five navy ships and an army ship. Another navy ship was kept stand-by as backup in case of any emergency. Four speed boats, four country boats, two navy and two coast guard boats escorted the seven ships.
Bangladesh Navy were in-charge of ensuring security of the ships carrying them.
In a pressnote, Bangladesh government has asked everyone to exercise utmost caution, not to undermine or misinterpret its genuine efforts to improve lives and livelihood of the Rohingyas through relocation to Bhasan Char.
During the journey and after the arrival, the Rohingyas looked happy at the prospect of getting new accommodation and the newly-arrived Rohingyas were settling in the homes allocated to them.
The government had initially planned to relocate around 2,500 people from the camps to the island in the first phase, but that could not take place due to unknown reasons.
Earlier in the day, about a dozen Rohingyas of different ages said that they were going to Bhashan Char willingly after they had been apprised of different aspects of the island.
Amena begum, a Rohingya woman said, “We were not forced by anyone. The deteriorating conditions in the camps at Cox’s Bazar prompted them to move us to Bhashan Char.”
In a statement on Friday, Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government decided to relocate the Rohingyas in face of growing concern over the extreme congestion in the Cox’s Bazar camps and to avert risk of death due to landslides and other unwarranted incidents.
Bangladesh government invested more than US $350 million to develop the housing project on 13,000 acres that have all modern amenities, year-round fresh water supply, uninterrupted electricity supply, agricultural plots, cyclone shelters, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, recreation and learning centers, playgrounds.
The Bhasan Char project is strongly-built with a concrete foundation, which can withstand natural disasters such as cyclones, tidal waves and super cyclone Amphan proved the strength of the structures there. Despite the heightened tidal wave, all the 1,440 houses and 120 shelter stations in the island remained unharmed. The island is connected with the mainland through waterways, it said.
Bangladesh government has ensured adequate supply of food along with proper sanitation and medical facilities for Rohingyas in Bhasan Char. Proper hospitals with highly qualified health professionals, adequate covid-19 testing and treatment facilities are also in place.
In addition to government agencies of Bangladesh, around 22 NGOs are already there to extend all possible support to relocated Rohingyas.
Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said the government position on relocation has been transparent since the beginning that it would be entirely on a voluntary basis.
A number of NGOs and journalists also visited the island, it said, adding that all of them expressed satisfaction about it. More importantly, the relocation was preceded by several rounds of discussions, based on the queries of the UN.
“We hope that the international community and the United Nations, as per its mandate, will be involved in the process very soon.”
At this stage, it is only practical that the international community including the UN fulfills their responsibility and meaningfully engage with Myanmar to commence repatriation, it said, urging all to exercise utmost caution so the government efforts are not undermined or misinterpreted.
“We would encourage human rights groups to put their efforts in creating conducive environment inside Myanmar for their quick, safe and dignified repatriation to their land of origin, Myanmar,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier,the Rohingyas were briefed about their stay in the island at the warehouse, and then a special prayer was offered.
They set sail on navy and army vessels from three different points in Chittagong and arrived at the island at around 2pm on Friday, after a three-and-a-half-hour voyage by sea.
With their arrival, the process of relocating Rohingyas from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char has officially kicked off.
Upon arrival, the Rohingyas were taken to a welcome camp after they were disinfected and their temperature was checked, as a safety precaution for Covid-19.
The relocated Rohingyas had also been tested for Covid-19 before their departure from Cox’s Bazar on Thursday.
They were later taken to a warehouse, where Commodore AA Mamun Chowdhury, director of the Bhashan Char project, welcomed them to the island and assured them of everything to make their stay comfortable.
Over 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in Myanmar starting in August 2017, finding refuge across the Teknaf border in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
They joined some 300,000 Rohingyas, who had fled decades of violence in the Rakhine state before and had been living in Cox’s Bazar. More than 1.1 million refugees are now living in Cox’s Bazar.
The naval authority of Bangladesh prepared the Tk3,100-crore housing project in Bhashan Char to ease the congestion in the Cox’s Bazar camps.