The government has allocated Tk 23.12 billion for the construction of homes for 100,000 Rohingyas on Bhashan Char, an island in the southeastern district of Noakhali.
The Bangladesh Navy will implement the project under the Prime Minister’s Office. The project is to be completed by 2019.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, gave the final approval for the ‘Asrayan-3 (the construction of residences and necessary security infrastructure for the housing of 100,000 forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals in Noakhali’s Hatia) on Tuesday.
“Meanwhile we have signed an agreement for the Rohingyas’ repatriation with Myanmar,” said Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal at a press conference.
“But they will need time to take back so many migrants. Many Rohingyas are living in dire conditions. This project was undertaken to provide them with shelter.”
The proposed location is 21 nautical miles from Noakhali.
“The massive wave of Rohingya refugees is a threat to both security and the environment. It has become difficult to find residential space for all of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals in Cox’s Bazar. The hills and forests are also being destroyed.”
The project work order says the sudden influx of Rohingyas, which has increased the refugee population from 507,000 to about 1.2 million, has created various problems and is damaging Cox’s Bazar’s position as a tourist spot.
The project will mostly focus on land development on the island and providing protections to residents against the sea. It will also construct 1,440 barrack houses and 120 central shelters for 100,000 refugees in 120 village clusters.
Establishment for Navy personnel, who will be in charge of security, internal roads, water extraction infrastructure, tube wells, water supply infrastructure and watch towers will also be built.
The government has long planned to move the nearly 400,000 refugees who came from Myanmar in the past few decades to Noakhali’s island Upazila of Hatia to deal with the problems that arise in the refugee camps.
Bhashan Char, also known as Thengar Char, is 10,000 acres at high tide and 15,000 acres at low tide. No-one lives on the island, which is mostly used for cattle grazing.
In 2013, the area was declared a forest reserve. Motor boats are the only mode of travel to the river islands. It takes between three to three-and-a-half hours to travel to Hatia.
Earlier this year, Reuters published a report calling the island dangerous for habitation, saying it was prone to bandit attacks, floods and cyclones. A report from the Bangladesh Forests Division last February also called it unsuitable for habitation.
A few months later a report by the Noakhali district administration declared Vasan Chor to be similar to other river islands in the area. There will be no problems building settlements if the relevant infrastructure is in place, the report said.
In late August, a Myanmar military crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of new Rohingya refugees to cross the border, spurring the government to speed up its residence construction initiative.
The government will welcome any donors to the project, the planning minister said.
“The government has begun this work out of humanitarian concern and will do its utmost.”