Bhasan Char: The Need For Rohingya Relocation In The Current Context – OpEd
Of the nearly 80 million displaced people in different parts of the world, 1.1 million Rohingyas are living in 34 Rohingya camps in the more densely populated Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Bangladesh extends humanitarian assistance to the world’s most persecuted Rohingya minority, who have fled genocide by Myanmar’s military. From the very beginning, people from all walks of life, including the government of Bangladesh and the locals, came forward with relief assistance and arranged accommodation for the Rohingyas. Forests and agricultural lands of Cox’s Bazar were cleared to make room for Rohingyas. However, with more than 30,000 children being born each year, the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar are currently home to 40,000-60,000 people per square kilometer, creating a “space crisis”. Subsequently, Bangladesh undertook the Bhasan Char project to prevent local and regional instability and environmental catastrophe and to provide better accommodation for the Rohingyas, which is an ideal model for refugee management in the world.
When the Rohingyas entered the Bangladesh border on 25 August 2017, due to the genocidal and violent eviction campaign of the Myanmar military junta, about 6,000 acres of forest and hills were immediately cut down and temporary shelter was provided for them. Gradually, with the involvement of the international community, the government of Bangladesh started making efforts to meet the basic needs of the Rohingyas. As ethnically and historically Rohingyas belong to Myanmar, the initiative to repatriate Rohingyas was taken on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Myanmar, but due to the continuous reluctance and non-cooperation from Naypyidaw, it was not possible to send back a single Rohingya in last 4 long years. Until then, the level of environmental degradation and various crimes committed by the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar and the south-eastern part of Bangladesh have been increasing day by day, which is very painful for both the peace-loving locals and the Rohingya.
According to the UNICEF, about 6 million people have already been displaced inside Bangladesh due to the adverse effect of climate change. The risk of climate change is increasing due to the indiscriminate deforestation after Rohingya influx. The water level in Cox’s Bazar has already plummeted due to deforestation and changes in the balance of biodiversity. As wildlife habitats have been destroyed, they often move to the locality and pose a death threat to the inhabitants. Although there are a total of 1,156 species of plants and animals in Cox’s Bazar district, they are at risk of extinction as their habitat is endangered in the presence of Rohingya refugees. The surplus waste of 1.1 million Rohingyas is piled up on agricultural land and it is becoming unusable. In such a situation, if 1,00,000 Rohingyas are relocated to the planned and livable place Bhasan Char, it will be easier for Bangladesh to manage both the lives of Rohingyas and locals, and save the biodiversity.
In addition to the environmental catastrophe, the horrific scene that unfolds in light of the local security situation has necessitated the relocation of the Rohingya to Bhasan Char. With over 1.1 million Rohingyas living together in 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar, crime is on the rise, with a focus on power and domination over camps. Due to the increase in killings, disappearances, abductions, rapes, etc., about 19,000 peace-loving Rohingyas are voluntarily moving to better and more well-organized Bhasan Char to lead a safer life.
According to various media sources, the number of cases and accused has been increasing in Cox’s Bazar in the last four years due to various crimes committed by Rohingyas. According to different local news media, there were 27 arms cases, 256 drug cases, 11 rape cases, 04 kidnapping cases, 01 robbery case, 13 murder cases, 03 human trafficking cases and 27 other cases in 2020. Many Rohingya have expressed interest in relocating to Bhasan Char in the hope of a safer life. But they cannot follow their will due to the continuous rumors and threat from some INGO and terrorist Rohingya organizations. If 10% Rohingyas are relocated to Bhasan Char, a more open environment will be created in the Cox’s Bazar camps. This will make it easier to control crime and to monitor Rohingya criminal organizations. As Bhasan Char is a flat land, security analysts believe that various terrorist activities by the Rohingya will be comparatively less. Therefore, the initiative to relocate Rohingya to Bhasan Char with emphasis on local and regional security risks is a timely decision by the Government of Bangladesh.
Due to the scarcity of flat land in Cox’s Bazar, the Rohingyas are staying in many risky camps built by destroying the forest surrounded by hills. Thousands of displaced families living in the 2,800-hectare valley area are at high risk of landslides during the rainy season every year. A landslide in Cox’s Bazar last July killed 23 people, including Rohingyas, and injured many more. Extreme levels of flood with heavy rains created waterlogging in Rohingya camps which acts as a source of various diseases. Floods in July killed 11 Rohingya, including four children, and submerged 4,000 homes, leaving about 20,000 Rohingya homeless. There are various groups of Rohingyas involved in drug and human trafficking, so it is alleged that one group deliberately set fire to another group’s controlled camp. The fire quickly spread from one house to another as the temporary houses of the camps were adjacent and filled with flammable substances.
On the other hand, the houses in Bhasan Char are designed to protect from natural hazards. Therefore, Rohingyas should go to Bhasan Char to reduce the risk on lives and live in a better and safer environment. Some of the Rohingyas, reported to have fled Bhasan Char; were involved in or victims of human trafficking. Moreover, many people associated with human rights organizations opined that the interest of Rohingyas in Bhasan Char will increase if the relief activities of international non-governmental organizations start soon. After several visits, the EU, OIC and UN representatives expressed a very positive attitude towards the facilities and overall living conditions of the Rohingyas in Bhasan Char. The United Nations has already announced that it will be involved in the overall activities of Bhasan Char.
Objections of Bhasan Char being a flood and cyclone prone area were shattered by the image of sustainable and tolerant Bhasan Char following the recent cyclones ‘Ampan’ and ‘Yaas’. So it would not be wrong to call Bhasan Char ‘Shantir Char (Place of Peace)’ for peace loving Rohingyas. Bhasan Char has all kinds of facilities including planned and spacious accommodation, schools, fields, mosques, health centers and cyclone centers. At present, 22 NGOs in Bhasan Char have undertaken various projects in coordination with the government to improve the living standards of Rohingyas. With the launch of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through the United Nations, 16,000 acres of land in Bhasan Char will have the potential to implement many more employment-generating new projects (such as fishing, raising livestock, setting up small and cottage industries, etc.), which is impossible in densely populated camps like Cox’s Bazar. The Government of Bangladesh has undertaken a new project called ‘Development of Navigation from Chittagong-Hatia to Bhasan Char’ for round-the-clock communication of Chittagong and Noakhali districts with Bhasan Char. This will make it easier for the Rohingyas of Bhasan Char and Cox’s Bazar to communicate and bring necessary goods. The immediate involvement of the international community and more non-governmental organizations in such a grand initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, built at a cost of about US$350 million, will facilitate the formation of ‘Post Traumatic Growth and Resilience’ among the frustrated Rohingyas, victims of genocide and atrocities in Myanmar.
The main and only way to resolve the Rohingya crisis is to repatriate the Rohingya to their native Rakhine. But the military coup by the Myanmar army on February 1 has created a lot of uncertainty. If 1.1 million Rohingyas live in the crowded and vulnerable hill tracts land of Cox’s Bazar for such an uncertain and long time, their lives will be threatened. So if a portion of Rohingyas are shifted to Bhasan Char, the quarrels among them will be reduced and harmony will be created and most importantly, it will be easier for the Bangladesh government and international non-governmental organizations to manage the displaced Rohingyas.
*Tonmoy Chowdhury is an independent researcher and freelance writer. He is interested in Refugee and Migration, Human Security Issues, South Asian Politics and Economic Diplomacy. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected]