As of October 17, the UN Refugee Agency estimated that around 582,000 Rohingya people had entered Bangladesh since the latest military crackdown began in Rakhine state in Myanmar in August. The Bangladesh government has decided to rehabilitate these Rohingya in a new purpose-built camp to be built on Bhashan Char, a remote island under Hatiya upazila in Noakhali. In the fourth report of a six-part series, the Bangla Tribune’s Shahed Shafiq takes a look at the plans for the rehabilitation of the Rohingya on the island
After Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that the forcibly displaced Rohingya people would be rehabilitated in Bhashan Char in Hatiya, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal paid a visit to the island.
Despite having decided on the rehabilitation, the government has yet to finalise how to proceed with the plan.
The local administration in Noakhali, the district under which Bhashan Char falls, has drafted plans for two methods to relocate the refugees: a cluster village project and a housing project.
“The administration believes that the cluster village project is the better option for rehabilitating the Rohingya,” Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Khandaker Md Rezaul Karim said.
According to the UNO, the government high-ups have asked the local administration to provide them with further information on the island.
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Under the circumstances, Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Md Mahbub Alam Talukder directed the Hatiya UNO to draft a report on viable rehabilitation methods.
Under the cluster village method, around 250,000 Rohingya people can be rehabilitated on the 5,000-acre landmass of the island allocated for the rehabilitation, while under the housing project, more than 400,000 people can be housed in the same area.
Yet, UNO Rezaul prefers the cluster village method because he believes the quality of life will be marginally better for the Rohingya in cluster villages.
The draft report also says the island currently has a landmass of 13,000 acres, and 2,600 acres of that land remains submerged most of the time due to the high tide. Bhashan Char also has many small- and medium-sized canals, taking up a total of 1,500 acres of area.
The allocated 5,000 acres of land could be used to build a cluster village or a housing project. The remaining 3,900 acres of land should be used for embankments, roads, cyclone shelters, sanitation, tube-wells, ponds and other development projects, the report states.
“Cluster villages would allow us to rehabilitate 50 families per five acres of land,” UNO Rezaul told the Bangla Tribune.
“We will be able to relocate around 50,000 families in the allocated 5,000 acres of land. However, using the housing method, we can build a total of 125 housing complexes in the allocated land.”
The UNO said each housing complex will accommodate 87,500 people, leading to a total of 437,500 people rehabilitated on the island.
“Housing projects can accommodate more people compared to cluster villages, but nothing has been finalised as yet,” he added.
Speaking about the benefits of the cluster village system, Rezaul said: “If we move forward with the cluster village method, the residents would have a small yard adjacent to their homes. There will be tube-well for every six or seven families.
“The housing project, on the other hand, will be a lot more congested and will not offer much breathing space to its residents.”
The UNO confirmed that the Land Record and Survey Department had contacted the local administration to conduct a thorough survey of Bhashan Char. He said the survey activities have already begun.
“We have much work to do in Bhashan Char. After the survey is complete, we will know what challenges the island has in store for us. That place must be made habitable using engineering and technology, before the Rohingya are sent there to settle down,” Rezaul told the Dhaka Tribune.