Since August 2017 more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee Mayanmar and take shelter in Teknaf and Ukhia upazila under Cox's Bazar. Currently, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh. The big concentration of these refugee people is living in the temporary camps of Cox's Bazar which were built during the influx in 2017. And there have been no signs of repatriation. Three formal repatriation attempts have doomed to fail. We don't see any new efforts are coming up. Now it is certain that the repatriation is not happening soon.
The government has been thinking for a long time to relocate the refugee population. It is not a new idea or plan. The government has been considering it since long and in 2015 there was the first-ever plan to relocate them to an island called Bhasan Char under the Noakhali district. After that, there have been many efforts to build infrastructure on the island and also to reduce the pressure of refugees in the congested camps in Cox's Bazar. Shelter facilities have been built with help from the government of Bangladesh and different donor agencies.
There has been a primary list of Rohingya Refugees and around three thousand of the six hundred families have voluntarily agreed to move to that island. The authority involved in this relocation process wants to relocate around 100,000 refugees in phase by phase. They are making the list of the refugees who voluntarily want to move to that Bhasan Char. The later the government wants to involve many organizations from the United Nations in this relocation process. However, many local, national, and international NGOs are against the relocation process. But there is no tangible argument behind their claim. They said that the island is regularly hit by devastating cyclones. But they couldn't show any empirical evidence behind the claim. Also, the island is isolated and flood-prone. But this doesn't make any sense because Bangladesh the country as a whole is flood-prone. Besides, the government has agreed to establish a regular shipping service between the island in the Bay of Bengal and the mainland.
While Bangladesh's vulnerability to climate change has long been known, the recent influx of Rohingya refugees may intensify the problem. Indeed, environmental damage is among the worst effects of the refugee influx. The Rohingya influx has put a critical impact on the forest land in the area of Cox's Bazar as thousands of hectares have been destroyed for making makeshift camps and collecting firewood. To accommodate this huge number of Rohingyas Bangladesh has already cleaned 1485 hectares of forest land and 26000 hectares of forest lands are at risk of degradation. This will create environmental disasters. Apart from threatening the biodiversity, the use of the forest resources may also lead to a rise in the social conflict between the host communities and the Rohingyas.
Groundwater depletion and contamination as one of the major concerns in the area. Due to the influx, the demand for the water has increased and to meet the demand thousands of shallow tube wells have been installed in the camp areas. They are very close to each other. Due to the extensive withdrawal of water from the shallow aquifer, there has been evidence of depletion of groundwater as some of the wells have gone dry. Besides, thousands of latrines without proper soak pit have been installed very close to the water points. These leakage, seepage, and overflow from these facilities are being reported and also making the groundwater contaminated.
For setting up the caps for the refugees the authorities had to indiscriminately cut down the hills. As a result, the terrain has lost its natural setting and also the vegetation cover has gone. Which has increased the risk of the landslide and might lead to another disaster. The makeshift camps have created a significant impact on the wildlife as the camp area used to be the habitation for the wild elephants. Many refugees have died due to the elephant-human conflict.
There have been studies done by many different national and international NGOs and studies show that the influx of refugees has colossal impacts on the host communities. The households of the locality are being affected by the increased prices for food and other items. It has also affected the wages of daily labors. Due to the abundance of the labor force, the demand for labor is very low and the people in the host communities were depending on the manual labor wage they are being affected badly. Which has increased the vulnerability of the host households.
The Rohingya refugee crisis has created enormous pressures on local agricultural and food supply
Systems because of the increased demand and the prospect of erosion in profit margins as a result of increased transportation costs. Marine resources are now depleting at a faster rate than the replacement rate, owing to overfishing and destructive fishing practices. Since the crisis in August 2017, a ban has been in place on fishing in the Naf River, for security and border control reasons.
Also, to these problems public service and public goods delivery of the Rohingya influx in host communities are under threat. Because public service delivery in the camp area was designed for a quarter of million people and now it has to cope with an extra million people. Health care, roads, water supply, sewerage systems, waste disposal, the police, and the civil administration are all being stretched far beyond their capacity.
Now it is safe to say that every aspect of civilized life has been affected by the Rohingya refugee influx. Due to the over-concentration of the refugees in a very congested place, the complexity is ever increasing. Considering all the complexities, the local authorities and the government of Bangladesh have decided to relocate the Rohingyas to an island called Bhasan Char under Noakhali district. Initially, they are planning to take three thousand Rohingya and they have a plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya population to that particular island. However, the local and international NGOs are opposing the decision considering the implications. Nevertheless, we believe, relocation is a chance to give some refugees a standard living and opposing the decision will only increase the complexity.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]
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