New reports says Bangladesh island chosen to relocate Rohingyas 'fit for habitation'

Conflicting reports have surfaced about whether the island Bangladesh has chosen to relocate the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is fit for human habitation or not.

Noakhali CorrespondentAbu Naser Monju,
Published : 25 Feb 2017, 06:56 AM
Updated : 25 Feb 2017, 08:20 AM

It takes at least three hours to reach Thengar Char, an island in the Bay Bengal, by boat from the nearest human habitation in the southern coastal district of Noakhali.

A recent study by the district administration says it's fit for human habitation while a previous study by the forest department concluded it was not.

Noakhali administration chief Badre Munir Ferdous said they have forwarded their findings to the Forest and Environment Ministry on Thursday.

The reports says it finds Thengar Char's environment similar to other islands and concluded it to be fit for human habitation if necessary infrastructures were developed.

However, a study by the forest department's local office earlier this month said it is yet to be considered fit for human habitation.

This picture of Thengar Char, a desolate landscape without any human settlements, was taken on Friday. Photo: abu naser monju/

After the local forest office forwarded the findings to its headquarters, the district administration sent a team to the island on instructions from the forest and environment ministry.

Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Ferdous said the latest report was filed by Additional Deputy Commissioner Subrata Kumar Dey and Assistant Forest Conservator Mohammad Ali after they visited Thengar Char.

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Almost half a million Rohingya refugees, including the 69,000 who arrived in the last few months, are living mainly in Cox’s Bazar in two registered camps and makeshift settlements after fleeing persecution and communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Bangladesh officials claim many of these Muslim Rohingyas are involved in criminal activities.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said recently that human trafficking and narcotics smuggling networks have surfaced in Cox's Bazar region due to the "vulnerable nature" of the refugees.

He said the relocation would help refugees, including undocumented Myanmar nationals, “to have better access to the humanitarian assistance.”

The government also sees the refugees as a problem for developing the Cox's Bazar and St Martin's Island as a tourism hub.

Now Dhaka plans to move them to the uninhabited Thengar Char Island in Noakhali, about 250 km northwest of the border camps in Cox's Bazar.

The move has created a stir with several global rights bodies calling Bangladesh to drop the plan saying the island is not fit for human habitation.

That contention was backed by the forest department study. But now the local administration's findings points to the opposite.

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Thengar Char, a desolate landscape without any human settlements, is situated in the Bay of Bengal at the estuary of the Meghna River.

The district administration report says the 15,000-acre island, 5,000 acre of which inundates during high tides, is now used as a grazing field for cows and buffalos.

It takes three to four hours by an engine-run boat to reach the island from the nearest human inhabitation at Noakhali's Hatia Island, which is at approximately 20 kilometres away, it says.

The previous report by the local forest office cited four factors -- non-availability of drinking water sources, regular inundation due to high and low tides, poor soil condition and natural calamities -- as major obstacles for human inhabitation.

The new report, however, says inundation due to high tides is regular scenario for most other islands in Hatia Upazila, not just Thengar Char and measures like embankments, cyclone shelters, excavation of sources of drinking water have to be taken for any other island to make it fit for human habitation.

Thengar Char is situated in the Bay of Bengal at the estuary of the Meghna River. Picture taken on Friday by Noakhali Correspondent Abu Naser Monju.

"We have found the island to be at least four feet higher than the water level during high tides.

"The trees of the forest seemed to be stout enough. We believe human habitation will not be a problem if proper infrastructure is developed," Additional Deputy Commissioner Subrata Kumar Dey told

The new report also recommends setting up police camps in the island to keep law and order situation in check.

Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Ferdous said, "We suggested relocating Rohingyas in Thengar Char after developing necessary infrastructure."

He said that if Rohingyas can be relocated to the island then they will be unable to engage in criminal activities.

The government's plan to shift the Myanmar refugees from Cox's Bazar has triggered protests in Noakhali with residents demonstrating against it.

But the MP from Hatia (Noakhali-6) Ayesha Ferdous sees it from a humanitarian point of view.

"If the Rohigyas are provided with livelihoods in the island then chances of them getting involved in criminal activities will come down," she told