A joint research project by Central Foundation for International and Strategic Studies (CFISS) and Department of Peace and Conflict, University of Dhaka.
Dr. Md. Rafiqul Islam
The Rohingya population has been persecuted for decades by the military junta of Myanmar. They were forcefully displaced from their own lands and took refuge in different countries of the world where they were labeled as refugees or displaced persons. In year 2017 when the Rohingya people faced genocide by the military, almost 10 lakh people took refuge in Bangladesh by crossing the international border.
Government of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took humanitarian approach in this crisis response and allowed them to take shelter in Cox’s Bazar in 34 camps. It resulted in 15 lakh Rohingyas living in total as previously Rohingyas came to Bangladesh in 1977, 1992, 2012 and 2017. He addressed that these issues have made social, economic, political and strategic very complex in the region. In that perspective, The Bhasan Char project is very important to assess how viable and moderate it is for Rohingya Refugee relocation. To get this answer DU peace and conflict studies department and CFISS jointly collaborated in research.
The main focus of this research was to check the existing convenience in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camp and the security issues involving their life, to assess the security, viability and endurance of Bhasan Char for Rohingyas to live in, making a comparative analysis of the old camp and new Bhasanchar and finally to suggest a policy recommendation. This research was conducted by FGD, Key informant interview and Expert interview and the names have been kept confidential. As far as we know the Rohingyas have been persecuted and they have taken refuge. So creating a consensus among them to ensure their participation in this research was one of the main objectives.
Results were found as Bhasanchar has availability of food, clothing and shelter for social protection. From an environmental perspective, this Island is viable and durable to live in. It has been ensured by Disaster management scientists and geologists. It is new establishments to live in and has wide roads and is also safeguarded by embankments. An approach is ongoing to make its height up to 19 feet which can protect this island from cyclones and tornadoes.
The weather seemed in favor of agriculture, fishing, vegetable cultivation and inhabitants. This island would ensure education, medication, entertainment options and give full freedom for religious practices. The Island had an established modern refuge center which is the best in Bangladesh. The situation in Cox's Bazar is insufficient and the shelter, income generation and even livelihood were not satisfactory at all. The education system for the children was inadequate. To ensure safety and security of these huge populations was difficult and the camp was becoming dangerous for women and children mostly. They always wanted a place that is safe and ensured security.
He further advocated that there has been a constant fight between the host community of Bangalis and Rohingyas. International organizations and local NGO'S always helped the Rohingya but local poor people were often overlooked. The most horrifying fact living in the camp was Yaba addiction and business, prostitution, human trafficking and organ trafficking which is a main concern for the security issues and ensuring human rights of Rohingya population is a must. On the other hand Bhasanchar is seen as far more safe and secured for Rohingyas to live in. The researchers have also been thinking of creating an easy transportation process from the mainland that connects the island.
Few policy recommendation were suggested to ensure access to safe drinking water as the island waters suffer from salination and to collect rainwater and store it for domestic work purposes, to educate Rohingya children in their own language and culture, to invest in local small industries to ensure women participation in the economy and Kay Craft is working with them to make them solvent. Finally he concluded his session by saying that; food, shelter and medication are a must for refugees as basics. But there are two more needy factors and that is education and livelihood. Bhasanchar ensures all of them, with access to education and livelihood. But to ensure the education, it would require qualified teachers and necessary steps to bring back children who dropped out.
DR.Md. Touhidul Islam
Bangladesh had been hosting a large number of displaced Rohingyas. Bangladesh being a generous host provided shelter to displaced Rohingyos- more than 750000 after the crisis, though there were around 350000 registered in different camps in Cox's Bazar. The Government of Bangladesh and Myanmar authority continued bilateral agreements on Rohingya repatriation. Solution for repatriation of Rohingyas to the homes in Rakhine state the process has not yet been possible. Bangladesh had been facing different challenges to hosting such a large number of Rohingyas.
There have been extreme pressures on people of Cox's Bazar and has outnumbered the host population. More than 8000 acres of forest and have been lost. Freshwater level has depleted. Wildlife has been affected and environment has been damaged. Various crimes and unlawful activities inside and outside the camp has increased and undermined the state of social peace and harmony of the region. Therefore, the GoB has undertaken an initiative of relocating some of Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, located in Hatiya Upazila in Noakhaki district. Nevertheless, there have been concerns about the sustainability of living in the island. This created confusion between the local policy makers and the international organizations.
The aim of this research was to explore the opportunities and challenges of the relocated displaced Rohingya people in Bhasan Charand to identity and assess the key existing livelihood security concerns ot the Rohingya comps Cox's Bazar Bhasan Char has Total 13,000 acres of low laying land and unusable land is 6427 acres. The Ashraryan-3 project has 1702 Acres (approx) with 120 cyclone shelters, administrative buildings, offices for the U.N and other Non- governmental organizations, schools and two hospitals with 20 beds each and 9 feet embankment for flood protection.
There has been a clear picture of existing situation in Cox's Bazar camp. The housing facilities were inadequate as 1 small room shared by at least 5 people, and bamboo made and polythene roofs were made for accommodation which had no private rooms for daughters. Others ensured living by paying extra money to the local community. There were dissatisfactions with the amounts of food given to them per month sand the ration for a month keeps running out before the month. Alternative perception was that the food received was sufficient however; it was sold to meet the other needs.
Although facilities for fresh drinking water was available but bathhouses were scarce comparing to the dense population as 120 families use motor pumped water system. All camps did not have separate bathrooms for male and female and the drainage system was poor. The roads were broken and the drains were dirty and led with garbage waste. As health facilities were available but doctor working in the camp always suggested paracetamol to all patients’ and sometimes, doctors were not available.
The Utility services at the camps have been inadequate with little access to solar electricity facilities. Small solar system did not work specially during rainy season and insufficient lighting at night and could not navigate Rohingyas who work outside. Overall sales and security conditions of the camps were not good. Several Rohingyas also reported as kidnapped, murdered, drug dealers and victim of human trafficking. Domestic violence, brutality against women, petty crimes, robbery, physical assault, and murder was seen as common in the camps. Some Organized groups harassed, tortured the innocent people and they lived in constant fear inside the camps. Young girls are trafficked by Bay of Bengal and Yaba trading is common in camps. Also Rohingyas are recruited in criminal activities such as drug business.
Environmental hazard in the camp included risks of land slide, storms, cyclone and flash floods, potential fire risks and the lower areas flooded during the rainy season. Also education facilities were limited in the camps as school education is only available up to class 4.Children only took education in Burmese language and Rohingya language. They mainly received Madrasa and Maktab-based education. There was no permission of employment in the camps but Rohingyas sometimes worked as hawkers, fish traders, and day laborer and engage in different construction works and other worked in shops and had run small business. People could easily move from one camp to another but they needed travel pass to go outside. As Rohingyas were mainly Muslims, they could celebrate Eid along with other religious festivals and had no restriction in performing prayers, exercising religious rights.
The situation in Bhasanchar is different than in the camps. It has 3-layered engineered protection form wave breakers and 19-feet high dams for Protection from waves, cyclone and flood. The Environmental sustainability and livability is stable because it has 120cyone shelter with capacity of 1000 in each. He said that there had been concern of environmental hazards but people are happy about the infrastructure and no significant damage was done by Amphan and Bulbul. It had planned housing facilities, 4 bed for 4 people, access to toilet, and kitchen, open space in front of house. He further said that the Rohingyas expressed satisfaction because there were opportunists for poultry farming and scopes for food production, and besides they had international fund and there was sufficient ration. The water and sanitation issues were well considered. The Island had taken initiatives for offering health facilities to the relocated people that ensured 24/7 availability of doctors and accommodation facilities for doctors.
He further addressed that there were safe water facilities and had huge space for producing solar energy. Electricity was supplied through generator. And street lighting was available in the evening. Petty crimes such as theft, stealing had become unusual now. Shop keepers could keep the doors open in night.He said that two police stations and a fire fighting station have been established and police and navy patrol the street at night for the safety of relocated Rohingyas.
He stressed that the island was immune from violence for constant police patrols and there was chance of engagement in political or extremist activities. Bhasan Char had less scope in drug dealing activities compared to other places. There was scope of education for Rohingya children as two building for education mainly in English and Arabic were established. The employment opportunities were currently it is limited but there will be future scopes in agricultural and poultry sectors ,cattle rearing, milk collection and selling to local markets.
He mentioned that freedom of movement of the relocated people were limited to Ashrayan project. It was difficult to roam around the Island due to huge landmass and hence produced mixed reaction. There were establishment of 3 mosques and a community center and large space for practicing religious festivals and people were satisfied with it. He addressed the clear comparison from Bhasanchar and the camp where poor living conditions in the camp versus modern living conditions were provided in the island; from privacy issues to secured family privacy were given. Bhasanchar included better healthcare facilities. Street lights, firefighting stations etc. He also concluded that higher rate of criminal and unlawful activities in the camp but Bhasan Char was currently immune to such problems due to security forces so relocated Rohingyas feel much safer than camps in Cox s Bazar. He voiced out issues that needed to be looked after in Bhasan Char were reducing environmental risks by appropriate means, ensuring communication system maintained by service providers, providing psychological health counseling and trauma healing centers and ensuring strong education for children.
He concluded the session by saying, Bhasan Char is not a myth, instead is reality. There are huge installation for temporary relocation of displaced Rohingyas - already started. This island is a suitable, viable, and habitable place for fhe Rohingya displaced people with better facilities that of Camps in Ukhia and Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar. The island has proper defense against natural calamities with potential opportunities for displaced people. But it needs improved security system mechanism so that no one can exploit it. There is inadequate protection for addressing extreme natural calamities. He said to continue regional bi-lateral and international negotiation and diplomacy for repatriation process to their country, Myanrnar.
Prof. Md. Zillur Rahman
This part will focus on strategic and geological conditions of Bhasanchar. Bangladesh is basically an Island region and Bhasanchar is at the end of this island region. The Bhasanchar is still undergoing the sedimentation process and through this 2.4 billion tons of sediments have been repositioned till now. From a geological perspective, the weather and the condition of it is stable and can be analogous to Sandip as it is situated near it. There are hilly structures under this island which can be further studied. The physical condition and the water layer that has been found is enough for living.
It can be further assessed through coastal dynamics and engineered levels for stability. It had been emerged in 2003. It can be labeled as stable because there are several artificial island structures around the world in the ocean and creating an opportunity for living. But this island is mainly natural. 3 layered engineered measures have been taken to make it stable. Embankment establishment is one of them and it has been created keeping geological conditions of the Island in mind. Currently it has 9 feet height which will be leveled up to 19 feet so that it can protect its inhabitants from cyclone and storm surge, coastal flooding and tsunami. Another feature is that it has 3 storeyed buildings as disaster a center where people can take refuge and that has 260km/hour cyclone and storm resistance. Water condition is very firm for fishing and other domestic usage. As it’s an Island it should have slime water but there is fresh water in the deep layer and that can be extracted. Overall, rather than the Cox's Bazar camp, the Bhasanchar is a much facilitated place for relocated Rohingyas to live in.
Prof. Dr. Delwar Hossain
The relocation of Rohingya refugees' opportunities and challenges is a situation that needs to have a clear idea. Clear understanding of the topic is a must and Bhasanchar is a place that is considered as hope for the Rohingyas. But a question always arises that what is the broader context behind it? The Bhasanchar project is like the Padma Setu of Bangladesh where GoB has invested huge amount of money to establish a safe zone for displaced Rohingyas with own money to ensure their security. Bangladesh govt. has used 350 million USD for the Bhashanchar project for the Rohingya refugees who are the most persecuted community and were subject to genocide by the military junta.
Major Powers in the region and the countries around the world like Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and China have not taken a bold step regarding this issue. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina took the humanitarian agenda and gave refuge to 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in the Cox's Bazar camps which are the largest refugee camps in the world. She also gained the title of "Mother of Humanity” for such humanitarian response where major of the countries remained silent. The recent military coup and the geopolitical aspect have made the Rohingya issue very complex and has created scramble for interest.
With the research, a better living condition in the Bhasanchar which is best for the refugees than other refugee camps in the world is seen. But the biggest challenge is information gap and misinformation around the people of Bangladesh and International community regarding the Island living conditions and stability. This massive influx of refugees have created a regional instability and created security concerns of this region. Both China and Myanmar needs to understand the critical situation. The Rohingya population can easily be targeted by the extremist groups and by different organizations. The concerns International community has regarding the durability and stability of Bhasanchar is grounded by misleading information that is unfounded and baseless. There are so many Islands in the world with poor conditions and citizens around the world are living in those Islands. Compared to that Bhasanchar is in favorable position for safety, security and livelihood.
Finally he concluded that people were moving there voluntarily. There needed to be a reorientation of perception and understanding that people can live there. The Government of Bangladesh must be acknowledged for building such facilities for the most persecuted people of the world. Also Government of Bangladesh needs to press Myanmar to take these people back and focus on reparation.
After the presentation of Prof. Dr. Delwar Hossain, the anchor invited Prof. Dr. Sadeka Halim dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University to present her expert insights on the topic.
Professor Sadeka Halim thanked the Chief Guest Professor. Dr. A.S.M Maksud kamal, special guest Commodore M.N Nurul Absar (Retd) and the fellow presenters. As the deal of social science faculty, Dr. Halim specially thanked the department of peace and conflict and CFISS for conducting such a research project on the Bhasan Char Island. Professor Halim mentioned that the title of the project says it all, however, the term “temporary” relocation needed to be highlighted in order to avoid confusion among the international and local media. With that note, she started by mentioning that she had the opportunity to visit the whole premise of Bhasan char along with the research team along with fellow speakers Dr. Zillur and Dr. Delwar in November. She noted that the location of the island is in between Hatia and Sandip in Noakhali district and the area is 13 thousand acres. In the beginning of her speech she addressed why the international community needs to know about Bhasan char. There’re facilities like solar electricity, fresh drinking water, clear washrooms and kitchens present in the island as well as sources of livelihood opportunities like farming cattle and chickens are also available. The room sizes of the camps are 3.9 square meters, which is larger than that of the UN recommended size.
She also mentioned that Dr. Zillur rightly pointed out that one side of the island is protected by 13km long and 9 feet in height embankment and the other side is protected by mangrove forest. And already Bhasan Char has faced two natural disasters Foni & Bulbuli and the people, particularly the navy specialist who were stationed there survived those two cyclones. So one of the major fears of the international community is that in cases of cyclones, tidal waves and other natural disasters, the island might vanish. And Dr. Halim stressed that this is where we need to put a lot of emphasis that there is no such fear. The strong embankment, mangrove forest and the three tier shelters present in Bhasan Char is capable enough to protect the island from any natural disasters. Experts have gone through 170 years of history of Cyclones in that particular area and international experts along with Canadian disaster experts have given green signals to the island that it is stable for residents. As a sociologist Professor Halim mentioned that her interest lies with the social issues, the population of the cox’s bazaar is almost 23 lakhs and the population of the Rohingya people is officially around 12 lakhs and unofficially around 14 lakhs So as the previous speaker professor Touhid rightly pointed out that the camps in Cox’s bazar are overcrowded, have poor sanitary facilities, security risks of increasing violence, drugs and human trafficking which are making the camps unstable for living. In light of the historical context of the Rohingya community, the UN and regional actors such as our neighbor India and China have been very supportive. However, in terms of Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar, the question needs to be raised that why are they not putting that much heat to this issue. Dr. Halim further stressed that we need to take into consideration that Bangladesh tried their best to repatriate these persecuted people but desired success has not been achieved in the process. With the recent military coup in Myanmar the uncertainty of the repatriation of the Rohingya people in Rakhine state has further increased. The reality must be faced, in recent data it has been found that 18 thousand children were born in the Rohingya camps and among the camps almost half of the population are children. In the comparative findings presented by Dr. Tauhid, it showed that Bhasan char has the facilities of education, as schools, education centers, mosques were built. The young couples who have decided to move have moved with a hope that their children will have better opportunities of education. In a recent visit to Cox's Bazar, Dr. Halim came to know by talking to the locals that some of the Rohingya people relocated in Bhasan char are not happy because they were given cash in the Cox’s bazar camps, but in the Bhasan char they are being supported with rations, foods, housing and health facilities and a few of the relocated Rohingyas wants to come back. This is where more research needs to be done that is attracting them to come back. The impacts on the locals and the area of the camps have been profound. Dr. Halim mentioned that there are many refugee camps around the globe but the facilities given to Rohingya people here in Bhasan char is truly better than those camps. Bangladesh has been very kind to the Rohingya people and they are given the opportunities to enhance their skills so that when they repatriate to Myanmar they return as skilled human resource.
Finally, Professor Sadeka stressed that GoB needs more civil research participation in Bhasan char in order to remove the misconceptions of the international community about Bhasan Char and promote the issue of temporary relocation as well as we must keep pushing Myanmar for the return of the Rohingya people to their homeland.
The anchor thanked Professor Sadeka Halim for her speech and invited the special guest of the seminar Commodore M.N Nurul Absar (Retd), chairman of the CFISS to present his valuable speech.
Commodore Nurul Absar started his speech by greeting everyone. In the beginning of his speech, he mentioned that today’s session has been very insightful and it educated us about the launch of Bhasan Char. Bangladesh has shown tremendous compassion towards the displaced Rohingya people whereas many regional actors have failed to do so. In terms of our commitment towards these persecuted people, today, Bangladesh stands tall amongst the international community as we have earned the respect. Point to note from today’s seminar is that the presence of such a large number of the Rohingya population in Cox’s bazar is posting multiple threats and rising security concerns associated with increased violence, arms and drugs smuggling, human trafficking as well as the livelihood competition among the locals. In that backdrop, the GoB has taken the decision to temporarily relocate some of the Rohingyas to Bhasan char so that they can have access to a safe and happy life. Unfortunately, the myths and misconceptions surrounding the Bhasan char in terms of its location, sustainability, sources of livelihood, accommodation and health & education facilities as well as threat of natural disasters are portraying a false image of the island towards the international community. The in-depth research conducted in association with CFISS and Department of Peace & Conflict Studies aimed at removing these misconceptions so that everyone has an opportunity to judge the true scenario. The respected experts present here, provided their valuable opinions about the island through their findings. Commodore Absar mentioned that the visit to Cox’s bazar camps and Bhasan char for the research helped to create a comparative scenario. All members of the research team put their utmost effort to this project and tried their best to present the crucial issues through the research findings. As a Bangladeshi civilian, Commodore Absar requested to the friends of Bangladesh, to the UN and international community to acknowledge that Bhasan char like Costal island Hatia and Sandip is a stable island. Moreover, the 13km long embankment has further strengthened the stability of the island. In terms of livelihood and facilities Bhasan char is far better than that of the camps in Cox’s bazar, there is also accommodation available for UN personales, government officials and NGOs. Commodore Nurul is happy to inform that more and more Rohingyas are coming forward to move to Bhasan char voluntarily. He also urged the international community to say yes to Bhasan char and support Bangladesh’s initiative of temporary relocation. Before the repatriation, the Rohingyas should have the rights to live a dignified happy life and Bhasan char is providing them hope and a sense of purpose. Commodore Absar recited a verse of a 800 years old Persian poem saying that let it be an example for the UN, international community and for the present audience. He mentioned that as human beings we cannot stay naive towards the sufferings of the Rohingyas, so instead of yielding lip service to Bangladesh while keeping their geopolitical and strategic interests, the international community should come forward with their all out support. Lasting solution to this crisis is much needed in order to remove the agony and sufferings of the Rohingyas. At the end of his speech Commodore Absar thanked the chief guests, subject experts and the present audience again for coming to the seminar.
The anchor thanked Commodore M.N Nurul Absar for his speech and invited the chief guest of the seminar Professor Dr. A.S.M Maksud Kamal, pro-vice-chancellor (Academic) of University of Dhaka to present his valuable remarks.
In the beginning of his speech professor Kamal thanked the department of peace and conflict studies for conducting the comparative study and the CFISS for providing the scope of studying Bhasan Char. This comparative, scenario based study of Cox’s bazar camps and Bhasan char showed the differences of two camps in terms of humanitarian context as well as poor living standards. Life-like facilities, privacy, hygiene, education, livelihood opportunities that are almost non-existent in the Cox’s bazar camps, pushed it far behind the camps built in Bhasan char. Hence, from the consideration of socio-economic and sustainability of the social aspect, the living conditions of the camps in Bhasan char is far better than the camps of Cox’s bazar. Dr. Kamal mentioned that what he wants to clear up is the stability and the sustainability of the camps from a geologists’ and disaster risk managements’ perspective. The big question to the international community is whether the Bhasan char island is sustainable or not? As a disaster management expert, professor Kamal mentioned that he will concentrate more on explaining the stability and the geological position of the island. He also mentioned that previous presenter, professor Zillur Rahman brought out the evidence of the sustainability of the island. Professor Kamal along with professor Rahman, Professor Sadeka Halim, Dean of social science and other geological experts have been studying the island for the last couple of months. The team analyzed satellite images from 2003 onwards and found that erosion and abrasion phenomenon were sporadic. From 2015 onwards, deposition that is the abrasion phenomena was much higher than the erosion phenomena and the depocenter of the island where the sediments are located are almost stable from 2018 onwards. Due to the erosion surrounding the island, it is gaining relative stability. Longshore curve does not have the ability to cause erosion in the island because the direction of the longshore curve is towards the Sandip and Chittagong channel. On the other hand, in the southern part of the island, a new char has been emerging. Because of that, the longshore curve’s capability to cause erosion in the island has decreased. 2 million ton sediments are coming down and the newly emerged char beside Bhasan char is trapping the sediments and extending gradually. Professor Kamal then mentioned that the team’s prediction is that, in course of time, the island will get connected with Sandip. Question is what will happen when Rohingyas start coming there. Due to human settlement, top soil generation phenomena occur. And during the presentation of Dr. Tauhid it was shown that paddylands are present in Bhasan char. This is because of topsoil generation and it is a further indication of the stability of the island. Now the question arises: can environmental hazards like earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis pose a challenge to the survival of the island? Predictions by the expert is that it has the stability to survive from earthquakes for at least 500 to 900 years. On the other hand, professor Kamal mentioned that no cyclone paths go through the island. But the existing cyclone paths are situated on the two sides of the island. He also mentioned that if we take 1970’s cyclone into consideration, there were no embankment or cyclone center available during the Pakistani regime. The height of that cyclone was around 8 to 12 feet, and the government is planning for constructing a 19 feet long embankment. Hence, there is no chance of massive damages like the one in the 1970's cyclone. On that viewpoint, professor Kamal stressed that we may not be able to stop the cyclones, however we can reduce the probable damage they can cost to a minimum and the government has already taken initiatives to do so. In case of super cyclones, in order to reduce the damage due to wind velocity, 120 shelter stations have been built in Bhasan char. In terms of local tsunami, the embankment build surrounding the island is enough to tackle. On the other hand, professor Kamal mentioned that in a study conducted by his department, Disaster management and vulnerability studies, findings showed that Cox's bazar camps are situated in a critical slope where more than 1 lakh people live. And the study team suggested to UNHCR back then that if the people are not moved from that area, any massive disaster can take place and UNHCR took it into their consideration. Now that the GoB is planning to move the Rohingyas to Bhasan char, assessing the socio-economic and humanitarian aspect, the Bhasan char has become a place that gives them hope. Professor Kamal mentioned that Netherland, a country which is surrounded by embankments, has been thriving for years. Hence in this era of technology, the international community should come forward to support the initiative of temporary relocation by the GoB. He also mentioned that we’re soon to be one of the developing nations of the world which is also one of the most densely populated nations of the world. And when the 1.1 million persecuted Rohingyas came into this land, the GoB provided them with shelter and showed tremendous humanity. In this context, the international community should provide their all-out support and there is no scope for criticism. In the UN adopted 34/22 resolution, it is said that the Myanmar government committed a crime against humanity. On the other hand, professor Kamal mentioned that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina provided all sorts of humanitarian support to these persecuted displaced people, and that is the reason why she achieved the recognition of being “Mother of Humanity”.
Finally, Dr. Kamal stressed that the international community should put pressure on the Myanmar junta government to repatriate the Rohingya people to their homeland. Bhasan char is a temporary shelter for these displaced people, and their soil, their land is Myanmar. With this note, professor Kamal thanked the presenters, the CFISS as well as the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies for conducting the study and concluded his speech.