The Bangladesh government has decided to rehabilitate the Rohingya refugees in Noakhali's Bhasan Char. Bangla Tribune Staff Reporter Shahed Shafik recently visited the isolated island and talked to its people.
He found that the locals have become very curious and speculative after the announcement.
Though some among the locals are considering it to be the best example of humanity being served, they are also of the opinion that the Rohingya people to be rehabilitated there have a good chance of turning into pirates or getting involved in other criminal activities.
Moreover, it is feared that the island can provide the Rohingya people with easier access to the mainland areas. Recent news on the spread of various contagious diseases in the Rohingya refugee camps has further aggravated the anxiety of the locals. They fear their livelihood opportunities in the area would be reduced with the addition of the extra Rohingya population in close proximity.
Bhashan Char lies about 25km east to Hatiya. The navy has been assigned to make the island habitable for the rehabilitation. The navy has already started the initial work. The home minister, the defence secretary to the prime minister and other high officials of the government have also visited the island.
All these activities have generated worries among the locals. They believe the Rohingya people are a risky and crime-prone community. Some have previously been involved in many illegal business such as smuggling yaba and other drugs. If they are rehabilitated to the isolated and river-bound Bhasan Char, they may have an easy scope to join the pirates. If this was to happen, it would be difficult to bring them back on the right track again. Besides, their settlement might turn risky for the geopolitics of the bay.
At present, Hatiya island accommodates about 650,000 people. If 150,000 Rohingy people are added to the population at Bhasan Char, it will create imbalance in the environment. The locals have observed that the precautions that are being pledged cannot be implemented in real terms. The Rohingya population would somehow manage to sneak into the mainland.
Also Read Part 4: How exactly will Rohingyas be rehabilitated at Bhasan Char?
Amid such strong cautions, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal visited Bhasan Char on September 18. He said the people of Noakhali need not be afraid of the Rohingya people; the administration will keep a close watch on the activities of the new residents.
He assured that every aspect will be considered before the Rohingya are relocated and that Bhasan Char will be transformed into habitable area in a short time. Education and health faculties will be also ensured for them, he added.
But the home minister's assurance is not enough for the locals. When asked about the matter, Udayan Motsojibi Somobay Somiti General Secretary and former leader of Hatiya Dwip Sorkari College Students' Union Mohiuddin Mintu said it was like answering a humanitarian call to rehabilitate the Rohingya people, but they were afraid whether all the activities of the Rohingya people could be watched closely.
He expressed concerns that if they got the chance, it was not unlikely the Rohingya people would sneak into the mainland.
He also noted that the main profession of the Rohingya people being fishing, they could get involved in piracy in the disguise of fishermen.
Mohiuddin said there was evidence of their involvement in most criminal activities in Cox's Bazar and Teknaf.
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About 900,000 Rohingya people, who have fled Myanmar at different times facing atrocities by the Myanmar forces, are now staying in Bangladesh as refugees. Since August, 588,800 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border. The government has the information that the Rohingya, who have been staying in the country before the recent exodus, were involved in various criminal activities. That is why the government primarily considered them as social problems and impediments to tourism.
Abul Kashem, assistant headmaster of a government primary school in Hatiya, told the Bangla Tribune that the rehabilitation of the Rohingya in Bhasan Char will be enough to destroy the cultural heritage of Hatiya. If it became impossible to confine the Rohingya population in the char, they would spread over the mainland regions and create all sorts of hindrance in economic and cultural life.
Upokul Bachao Andolon General Secretary Sarwar Hossain Hridoy said at present about 650,000 people live in Hatiya upazila, mostly who live on fishing. Many of the Rohingya live on fishing. If they are added up with the existing local fishermen, the situation will turn worse, he added.
He also noted that various diseases, including HIV-AIDS, have been detected among the Rohingya. There are risks that these diseases might spread, he also said.
Also Read- How exactly will Rohingyas be rehabilitated at Bhasan Char?