Bangladesh will start moving 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote island from October, Joint Secretary Habibul Kabir Chowdhury told AFP on Tuesday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to officially open the newly constructed shelters on Bhashan Char on October 3.
“Initially, 50 to 60 Rohingya families will be relocated in the first phase beginning next month,” said Chowdhury. More than seven lakh Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 after the Myanmar Army started a brutal crackdown in Rakhine state, allegedly in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on police posts and a military base.
The plan is already behind schedule. Earlier, officials wanted to start moving the refugees before the monsoon began. Now, the Navy has fast-tracked construction of shelters and evacuation centres. Almost three-quarters of the project is complete, an unidentified official told AFP.
Disaster Ministry Secretary Shah Kamal said the refugees would be able to access humanitarian relief on the island and will get trained in fishing. Officials, however, said the refugees will not be forced to leave the existing camps in Cox’s Bazar district. “If we can ensure full humanitarian assistance to them, I don’t see any reason why they won’t come to the island,” said Chowdhury. “We’ll convince them.”
However, rights groups have said that the islet, which is prone to violent weather, flooding and other natural disasters, is uninhabitable. Bangladesh faces tropical cyclones, especially in the Bay of Bengal between April and November. Scores of people have died from natural disasters in the last 50 years. The island is an hour’s journey by boat from the nearest land.
The Bangladesh government has invested money to make it a habitable site. An unidentified Navy official told AFP a nine-feet embankment has been erected around the island to make it flood-resistant.