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Rohingya relocation to Bhashan Char begins

  • Published at 08:50 pm December 3rd, 2020
Rohingya refugees are being transported in a bus to Chittagong district from a refugee camp for the first mass relocation of refugees to an island, in Ukhia on December 3, 2020 AFP

Bhashan Char is fully ready to receive around 2,500 persecuted people sheltered in congested Cox’s Bazar camps, officials say

After years of efforts and fending off opposition from the United Nations, human rights bodies and the West-led international community, the government has finally begun the process of relocating Rohingyas from the congested refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhashan Char.

The first batch of the refugees left the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar throughout the day on Thursday. They are set to stay in Chittagong overnight, and their relocation to Bhashan Char will begin on Friday. 

As part of the government’s plan to relocate a little over 100,000 Rohingyas in order to decongest the camps in Cox’s Bazar, about 2,500 Rohingyas will be relocated during the first phase, multiple sources have told Dhaka Tribune, adding that they will be relocated family-wise.

With the beginning of the relocation, a long-awaited goal of the government is going to be fulfilled.

The first batch of 2,500 Rohingyas will travel to Bhashan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal, which is administratively under the district of Noakhali, in a couple of days, they said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue.    

The government officials are tight-lipped about the timing of starting the relocation and the number of people.

Relatives of Rohingya refugees gather outside the transit camp before the start of relocation of refugees, in Ukhia on December 3, 2020 | AFP

Despite repeated attempts, the state minister for disaster management and relief, secretary of the ministry of disaster management and relief, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, and the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar could not be reached for comments.

However, Mohammad Shamsud Douza, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told this correspondent: “Yes, some of the residents of the Rohingya camps have volunteered to go to Bhashan Char, and we are making all the preparations in this regard.

“I cannot confirm the number of people and timing of their journey. These are yet to be finalized,” he said in response to a question.

“Three convoys comprising 40 buses full of about 1,250 Rohingyas are on their way to Chittagong from Cox’s Bazar,” an official deeply engaged with the operation told Dhaka Tribune at around 4:30pm on Thursday.

“Another set of convoys will head to Chittagong at night with similar number of people,” he said.

“The Rohingyas will stay overnight in a Bangladesh Air Force facility in Chittagong under the supervision of Bangladesh Navy,” the official said.

“All of them are scheduled to start for Bhashan Char on Friday morning,” he added.

Rohingya refugees are being transported in a bus to Chittagong district from a refugee camp for the first mass relocation of refugees to an island, in Ukhia on December 3, 2020 | AFP

“All the preparations are complete to receive the Rohingyas,” a senior official of the Bhashan Char project said from the island in the Bay of Bengal.   

The officials said that preparations had been going on in full swing to receive the Rohingyas and make their stay comfortable.

Everything, including food, medicines and other stuff to lead daily lives, are being transported to the island, developed by Bangladesh Navy at a cost of about Tk3,100 crore.

Commander Anwarul Kabir, deputy director of the Bhashan Char project, told a group of journalists visiting the island on Sunday and Monday that they had been ready for quite some time to receive the Rohingyas, and that the conditions on the island were much better than Cox’s Bazar.

He provided details of the project, including the living conditions the Rohingyas would be enjoying, and the safety features for both of the island and the residents.

The officials further said all the Rohingyas would be tested for Covid-19 before the embarkation, and that full contingency plan is in place.

At least 13 vessels will be involved in the relocation of the first batch of Rohingyas. Apart from the ships carrying Rohingyas, there will be back-up ships and escorting vessels. A ship belonging to Bangladesh Army will carry their luggage. A ship of Bangladesh Coast Guard will also be deployed to escort the ships carrying the Rohingya.

The Rohingyas will be picked up from three points in Chittagong, and the armed personnel of Bangladesh Navy will be in charge of ensuring security of the ships carrying them.