(Image: The Bangladesh Navy is in charge of constructing a cluster housing project on Bhasan Char to house thousands of Rohingya families. Workers move construction material from the water vessels into the island Fazlur Rahman Raju/Dhaka Tribune )
Bangladesh plans to relocate thousands of Rohingyas, who were forcefully driven away from their own land by the Myanmar army, to the remote Bhasan Char.
Visible development in terms of construction could be seen during a recent visit to Bhasan Char, previously known as Thengar Char, which emerged only 20 years ago at the mouth of the Meghna River.
Bhasan Char is located around 25 kilometres away from the Hatiya upazila of Noakhali and 50 kilometres from the Subarno Char upazila. The 16,000-acre island was once used as a shelter by pirates.
It usually takes around two and a half hours to reach Bhasan Char by boat from the Nolchira terminal of Hatiya upazila.
The journey started with a hired engine-run boat from Nolchira boat terminal of Hatiya around 9am and ended at Bhasan Char around 12:30pm. Before the start of the journey, this correspondent had contacted officials of a construction firm and convinced them to take him to Bhasan Char.
When the boat reached the island, hundreds of water vessels carrying construction materials were seen in the area. Workers were busy unloading these materials. After entering Bhasan Char, this correspondent also found trucks and lorries carrying bricks and stones. Excavators were seen piling up mud for the construction of the embankment. Roads have been built across the char area and several officer cadets of the Bangladesh Navy were seen roaming the construction site on bikes.
The navy has built a cluster pilot building on the char as a demo project. Construction firms are using the demo as a model.
A shopkeeper, requesting anonymity, said: “We have heard a Rohingya family was sheltered around the pilot project area and received all facilities including access to navy doctors.”
During the visit, this correspondent also found an aged person collecting medicine from a shop with a prescription signed by a navy doctor.
According to sources, a total of 1,440 buildings will be built in the area to shelter Rohingya refugees. Each of the buildings will house 54 families, although Reuters reported that each building would house 16 families. Each family unit will have a 12-by-14 sq-ft room. Kitchens and toilets will be shared. There will be eight toilets in each building.
Babul Akter, a construction worker from Gaibandha, said a labour agent hired him at Tk450 for eight hours but he tends to work for around 18 hours a day as there is tremendous pressure to finish construction on time.
A Chinese company named Sinohydro is constructing a 13-kilometre flood defence embankment at the cost of $280 million.
During the visit, this correspondent found a Sinohydro engineer monitoring work on the construction site while accompanied by a navy official.
However, none of the officials agreed to comment on the construction of the embankment and the Chinese company.
A navy official said he knew nothing about the agreement between Bangladesh and the Chinese construction firm as it happened secretly.
He also said that the engineering corps of the Bangladesh Navy is monitoring the construction work which includes land development and construction of the embankment.
Requesting anonymity, an engineer of a private construction firm told the Dhaka Tribune that around 6,000 workers in 30 projects are working day and night.
He said they hope to complete their project within two months. He hopes Rohingya people can live there within six months.
According to sources, the navy has already built a helipad, jetty for naval vessels, and rest rooms for navel officials.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a press conference on February 19 said all Rohingyas would be relocated to Bhasan Char.