Bangladesh Delays Plans to Move Rohingya Refugees to Flood-Prone Island

By Muktadir Rashid   2 October 2018

DHAKA — Bangladesh has indefinitely postponed plans to relocate Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to a flood-prone island fronting the Bay of Bengal starting November after cancelling a visit by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The premier was scheduled to visit Bhasanchar Island and inaugurate the camp, whose construction is being led by the navy, on Wednesday. But Inter-Services spokesman Rashedul Alam said the trip was put off.

“The program is postponed. We will let you know the new date when it is fixed,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Photos of the camp seen by The Irrawaddy show a two-story building and several single-story structures.

A construction worker on the project told The Irrawaddy that work was still in progress.

Bangladesh formed a joint 10-member inspection team with the UN earlier this year to advise the government on whether the island and camp are suitable for settlement, headed by Muhammad Mohsin, an additional secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.

The team is preparing a report for the government and visited the island, located in the estuary of the Meghna River where it meets the Bay of Bengal, on Sept. 23.

Mohsin and Mohammed Abul Kalam Azad, Bangladesh’s Rohingya relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, declined to comment on the issue.

A spokesman for the UN’s resident coordinator in Bangladesh did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In August, the resident coordinator, Mia Seppo, told The Irrawaddy that discussions with the government about the UN’s concerns with the island’s safety, sustainability and vulnerability to extreme weather were ongoing.

In June, a report by the Special Branch of the Bangladesh police force said that only 13 percent of surveyed Rohingya refugees wanted to move to the island from Cox’s Bazar. Among their main concerns were the island’s isolation, which they worry will limit their access to medicine and other relief supplies, and being separated from relatives.

Bangladeshi officials have said they plan to show the island facilities to Rohingya camp leaders in Cox’s Bazar before any relocations begin in hopes of winning them over.

Authorities first proposed resettling Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar to the island in 2015 to cope with a recent influx from Myanmar.

Bangladesh asked the UN to help fund the plan after the sudden arrival of another 700,000 refugees in late 2017 pushed the population of the Cox’s Bazar camps past 1 million.