‘Bangladesh sees little foreign funds for Rohingya refugee island’

Bhasan Char
Bhasan Char is located in an area vulnerable to cyclones. Coastal zones and islands are at highest risk. Without any new defences the island would be highly vulnerable to flooding. Nearby islands have a tidal range as high as 6 metres, and a strong cyclone during a high tide would likely leave the entire island submerged, according to Golam Mahabub Sarwar of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Land. Photo grabbed from Reuters interactive graphic

Bangladesh is not expecting much help from foreign donors as it forges ahead with plans to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited island, an undertaking that does not yet have a timeline, a state minister said in an interview.

The minister of state for foreign affairs, Mohammed Shahriar Alam, told Reuters on Friday that Bangladesh was paying the entire roughly $280 million to build homes and fortify the muddy island in the Bay of Bengal from cyclones, and that it was mulling a formal request for international funds.

Interactive graphic: The island Bhasan Char 'A remote home for the Rohingyaprepared by Reuters

No refugees who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar would be moved there against their will, he added.

Rohingya refugees
Rohingya refugees walk at Jamtoli camp in the morning in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on January 22, 2018. File Photo: Reuters

Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed the border from Myanmar's Rakhine state since August, and are in cramped camps at Cox's Bazar. Because a repatriation deal between the neighboring countries has been delayed, Bangladesh aims to prepare new homes on the nearby island, called Bhasan Char, before the onset of seasonal monsoon rains that could come in late April.

Bhashan Char
By the end of April, architectural plans show 120 plots of land in Bhashan Char. Each of the blocks will consist of 12 buildings. There will be 1,440 buildings in total. Photo grabbed from Reuters interactive graphic

"We don't have a timeline because it's a lot of money," Alam said at Bangladesh's United Nations office in New York. "We are so far building it with our own finances. I am not very hopeful about how much funds the international community will be able to raise."

Mohammed Shahriar Alam
Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam. Reuters file photo

The latest wave of refugees joined about 300,000 Rohingya already in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest and most crowded countries, who fled previous bouts of violence. A UN coordination branch has separately requested $951 million for immediate relief.

Alam pointed to blueprints of construction on the island 30 km (21 miles) from the mainland, and said one plan could be to bring potential donors there. 

Bhasan Char
Construction workers stack stones on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh February 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters

He brushed off as "misunderstandings" concerns raised by humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International that the silt island was vulnerable to flooding. "Some people raised concerns about Bhasan Char (but) there is absolutely no reason to be concerned because we are building an embankment," he said.

Bangladesh sees the island as a temporary arrangement for refugees but has given conflicting signals on how much freedom they would have to leave once there.

Bhasan Char
Construction workers stack stones on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh February 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters

Alam said Bangladesh shared the building designs with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which suggested "we engage people, countries and organizations to come help and contribute" to the cost. "We are yet to do it," the minister said. "We haven't decided on that.