Bangladesh says once-submerged island ready for Rohingya
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladeshi island regularly submerged by monsoon rains is ready to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees, but no date has been announced to relocate people from the crowded and squalid camps where they’ve lived for years, officials said Thursday.
Flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques have been built on Bhasan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal, officials said.
“Bhasan Char is ready for habitation. Everything has been put in place,” Bangladesh refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder told The Associated Press.
The island is built to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar.
About 700,000 people came after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown against Rohingya in response to an attack by insurgents. Global rights groups and the U.N. called the campaign ethnic cleansing involving rapes, killings and torching of thousands of homes.
Foreign media have not been permitted to visit the island.
Saleh Noman, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist who recently visited, described a community emerging there.
“I saw a market with about 10 grocery shops and roadside tea stalls. Some were selling fish and vegetables,” he said. “All is set there with a solar power system and water supply lines.”
Bangladesh is a low-lying delta nation. The island, 21 miles (34 kilometers) from the mainland, surfaced only 20 years ago and was never inhabited.
The Bangladesh navy has been implementing a multimillion-dollar plan to bolster the swampy island, which is submerged for months during annual monsoon season.
International aid agencies and the United Nations have vehemently opposed the relocation plan since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.
Mostofa Mohamamd Sazzad Hossain, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, said Thursday the agency isn’t ready to endorse the relocation and is waiting for a chance to visit the island after a November trip was canceled.
“The U.N. has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking into place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” Hossain said.