The controversial relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char in Bangladesh has finally begun after years of uncertainty. On December 4, the first batch of 1,642 people from the existing camps in the country’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazar were transferred in vessels to the island in the Bay of Bengal under Hatiya upazila (subdistrict) of Noakhali.
The project, called Ashrayan-3, which is spread over 13,000 acres was implemented by the Bangladesh Navy with the assistance of MDM Architects and H R Welingford. Officials in Bangladesh were quoted by the media as saying that $350 million was spent on the project conceived five years ago by the government to check deterioration of the security situation and damage to the environment in Cox’s Bazar where most of the refugee camps are located.
The facilities created in the island include 1,400 cluster houses, 120 cyclone shelters, administrative buildings, offices for the U.N. and non-governmental organizations, schools, two hospitals with 20 beds each, relief centers, warehouses, fire and police stations, lighthouse, mosques, a helipad, 2 megawatt power plants, and road and drainage networks. A 12.1 kilometers long and two-meters high embankment with integrated drainage has been constructed to protect the inhabitants and onshore infrastructure from flood. Facilities for agriculture, fish and poultry farming, cattle rearing and dairy production have been provided in the island.
The U.N. and rights groups have raised questions on the relocation plan saying that the island was flood prone and could get submerged during high tides. However, a top government official has claimed that the island was safe from natural disasters. He said that delegates from the U.N. and other global organizations would soon be taken on a tour of the island.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India.