> Bangladesh has fast-tracked a controversial solution to the Rohingya crisis, sending thousands of refugees to a remote island often slammed by tropical storms. Chinese and British engineers are already quickly transforming it into a new camp, and it is unclear from top government officials whether refugees might end up stranded there.
>> I'm Claire Baldwin reporting for Reuters from Bangladesh. This is Chittagong, the closest major city to the island where the Bangladesh government wants to house Rohingya refugees. There are about a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh right now, and about 700,000 of them have arrived in the past six months, fleeing over the border from Myanmar.
The Bangladesh government has decided to house about 100,000 of them in the Bay of Bengal on an uninhabited island. The plan is controversial because some of the island is under water at high tide. It is also in the path of major cyclones.>> When Reuters visited a year ago, Bhashan Char, or floating island, was still uninhabited.
On February 14th, hundreds of workers were building roads. Reuters has seen satellite photos and visited an area where Chinese firm SinoHydro is building a 13 kilometer flood defense embankment. Blueprints show there will be more than 1,400 housing blocks built with shared kitchen and bathrooms. Each will house 16 families.
On Monday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the set up is only quote, temporary, unquote, to free up space in camps around Cox's Bazaar, which could face deadly landslides and floods in the monsoon season. One of Sheikh Hasina's advisors told Reuters the selection process for the refugees had not been finalized, but it could be based on lottery or on a volunteer basis.
But humanitarian agencies are worried about this mass relocation, especially given the island's safety concerns. Many Rohingya are also wary of being even further away from home, one telling Reuters he fled Myanmar to save his life and wouldn't dare risk it again in Bashan Char. When describing the island, the prime minister said, quote, from a natural point of view, it is very nice, unquote.
And while the initial plan was to put 100,000 people there, it has room for as many a million.