Watch | To where is Bangladesh relocating Rohingya refugees?

A video explainer on Bhashan Char to where Rohingya refugees are being transported from camps in Bangladesh's Kutupalong

Updated - December 18, 2020 06:57 pm IST

Published - December 18, 2020 06:48 pm IST

In early December this year, Bangladesh transported more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island called Bhashan Char. This is the first phase of a controversial planned relocation of 1,00,000 refugees .

The Rohingyas fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017. They have been living in a vast network of squalid camps in Bangladesh's Kutupalong since then.

Questions are now being raised about the safety of the island that they are being moved to. A United Nations human rights investigator had requested Bangladesh to allow a safety assessment of Bhashan Char.

Bhashan Char is a char-land of around 13,000 acres. It was formed by the accumulation of silt where the river Meghna meets the Bay of Bengal.

Char-lands are a common feature in Meghna and Padma rivers and literally mean “shifting landmass”. While these lands are known to be unstable and flood-prone, tropical cyclones also visit the area every year.

As the name reveals, the char was not part of the permanent land feature of Bangladesh, but appeared recently. Bhashan Char is surrounded by a mangrove forest that has given it geographical stability.

Sensing a tourism opportunity, the Bangladesh government had declared it a protected forest land in 2013. Bhashan Char is a two-and-a-half-hours boat ride away from Cox’s Bazar in Chittagong.

Over the past few years, Bangladesh has constructed roads and brought modern telecommunication networks to Bhashan Char. Bangladesh argues that the Bhashan Char islet will provide a safer place for the Rohingya refugees.

The government has earmarked around 1,350 acres for them, of which 432 acres is dedicated to their rehabilitation and the rest for future projects.

They are being housed in red-roofed residential units and most houses are built four feet above the ground to help them withstand unexpected high tidal waves.

Amnesty International said Bangladesh must “drop” its plans to shift Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char as it had not yet been declared safe for habitation by the United Nations. It claimed that many Rohingyas who were asked to relocate said they were coerced.

Diplomatic sources have confirmed that Dhaka does not plan to relocate the entire refugee settlement and only aims at reducing the congestion in Kutupalong.

Bangladesh’s long-term plan for Rohingya refugees is to seek their repatriation to the Rakhine province of Myanmar.

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