The proposed visit by a UN technical mission to Bhashan Char housing facility for the Rohingyas has been postponed after Bangladesh asked for the terms of reference for the visit.
“We want to know exactly what areas they want to look at, because the UN wants to send a technical team to the island,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Disaster Management Ministry, told The Daily Star on Thursday.
The UN last week set a schedule to visit Bhashan Char to look at the safety features between November 17 and 19.
“The schedule for the visit will be fixed after we get the ToR,” Shah Kamal said.
Joseph Surjamoni Tripura, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency in Dhaka, said the government and UN have agreed to postpone the visit to ensure that the right experts are on hand and all necessary logistical arrangements are in place.
He didn’t talk about the ToR required by the government, but said Bangladesh government and UN are discussing the next steps for the UN’s assessment of Bhasan Char as a place to relocate the refugees.
“The UN is prepared to move forward with the initial assessment missions at the earliest possible date,” Joseph said.
The government took up a housing project in Bhashan Char after some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military campaign in the months following August, 2017, in Myanmar. The refugees joined 300,000 other Rohingyas who had fled previous waves of violence since the 1980s to Bangladesh.
Government officials said destruction of forest, hills and risks of landslides in Cox’s Bazar have prompted the authorities to build a temporary housing site for the Rohingyas on the 40-square km Bhashan Char, an island 37 miles from the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
Disaster management ministry officials said that the project implemented by Bangladesh Navy has 120 cluster villages that are capable of accommodating 100,000 Rohingyas. The houses are built four feet above the ground with concrete blocks. The entire housing site is protected by a 13-km flood embankment.
There are also 120 cyclone shelters, which will also be used as schools, medical centres and community centres, they added.
Shah Kamal said there are large swathes of land that could be used for livestock farming and fisheries in Bhashan Char.
The refugees now live in crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar where they have almost no work to do.
“We consider it a safe place for living. There will be education facilities as well,” he said.
Aid agencies say the island was isolated and flood-prone and put conditions that include a regular shipping service between Bhashan Char and the mainland.
Late last month, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder told reporters that some 6,000 to 7,000 refugees had expressed their willingness to be relocated to Bhashan Char.
UN agencies then decided to send a technical mission to Bhashan Char. It intended to look at the risks of natural disasters, water supply, access to basic services, including health and education, and the freedom of movement within Bhashan Char and to and from the mainland, a UN official said.
Technical experts from Bangladesh government would also accompany the UN mission to Bhashan Char, Senior Secretary Shah Kamal said, adding that he was expecting the UN mission to be satisfied by the facilities built for the Rohingyas.
“Once a group of Rohigya starts living there, I am sure, others will follow suit,” said another official of the ministry.