The relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasanchar started on Friday with 1,642 refugees setting foot on the island in a festive mood.
Four ships of Bangladesh Navy carried them to the much-talked-about island at 1.45 pm. Earlier, the Rohingyas started their journey from Chittagong Boat Club jetty at 10.20 am.
Receiving the refugees in the island, Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury said, "Finally our long wait has ended. This is a happy day for us, as we have made tremendous efforts to implement the project."
The Bhasanchar project director hoped that the international communities will realise that their apprehensions regarding safety and communication issues of the island are not true, when they will visit the Rohingya accommodations there.
On Friday, the 1,642 shifted Rohingyas of over 300 families were allocated new houses in Bhasanchar. A briefing session was held before they moved to their new address.
A total of 1,440 houses have been built there to provide accommodation to 100,000 Rohingyas, out of the one million, who have taken shelter in Bangladesh since 2017.
In Bhasanchar, 22 local NGOs will provide basic services to the Rohingyas.
The refugees were found jubilant after coming to the island and while entering their houses.
Abdul Hamid, who has come to the island with five of his family members, made the first entry to his house - A01.
Hamid, who had fled Rakhine in 2017 in the face of Myanmar army's torture, was earlier living in Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar.
"I and my family members are very happy with the accommodation arrangements here. We thank Allah for providing us this facility," he told the FE.
Md Zubayer, a refugee and previous resident of Balukhali camp, has also moved to the new settlement along with four family members.
Talking to the FE he said many of his relatives are still staying in Cox's Bazar.
"They told us that they will also move here, if we find this place better than Cox's Bazar," he mentioned.
An official of the Office of The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) said the refugees have come to the island voluntarily, and they are very happy after coming to this place.
A section of people are still spreading rumours to portrait a negative image of this place for vested interest, he said.
Bhasanchar project, initiated in October 2017, was completed to receive the refugees one year ago. But the relocation process deferred several times due to reservation of some international humanitarian agencies.
The experts, who recently visited Bhasanchar, said relocation is the only option to ease the huge pressure of refugees, living in the Cox's Bazar camps. The island is only 28 km away from the Chittagong Port, and two km from the mainland of Noakhali district.
It takes two and half hours by launch to reach the island from the Chittagong Port. So communications to and from the island should not be a problem, they added.
International agencies, like - the UNHRC, cited safety and communication issues of Bhasanchar, and called for an independent technical study on these issues.
But, Commodore Mamun pointed out that the island is protected with three-layer protection system, including a 12-feet-high embankment around the project area.
Meanwhile, defending the relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasanchar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) issued a statement on Friday.
It said the relocation has become imperative to de-congest the over-crowded camps in Cox's Bazar that have temporarily been accommodating nearly a million of Rohingyas with many more thousands born each year.
The deteriorating security situation due to prolonged stay of these frustrated people in Cox's Bazar also compelled the Government of Bangladesh to come up with a contingency plan and develop Bhashanchar from its own budgetary allocation. Accordingly, the government invested more than US$ 350 million to develop the 13,000-acre island.
The island has all modern amenities, round-the-year supply of fresh water, proper infrastructure, enhanced facilities, and beautiful lakes.
Contrary to the apprehension of some quarters about feasibility of the island, Bhashanchar stands firm against massive storms. Despite heightened tidal wave, all the 1,440 houses and 120 shelter stations in the island remain unharmed.
Besides, the island is connected with the mainland through waterways.
"On the relocation, the government's position has been very clear and transparent from the very beginning that any relocation would be entirely on a voluntary basis," the MoFA statement mentioned.
Several rounds of discussions, based on the queries of the United Nations (UN), were also arranged.
"We hope that the international communities and the UN, as per its mandate, will be involved in the process very soon."
The relocation process is a part of the broader plan of repatriation, which is the only priority for the government.
The Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals, and they must return to that country. The Bangladesh government is doing its best for the safety and security of these temporarily sheltered Myanmar nationals, it further said.
"At this stage, it is only practical that international communities, including the UN, will fulfil their responsibility and meaningfully engage with Myanmar to commence repatriation, which is the only durable solution of this crisis."
"At the same time, we urge all to exercise utmost caution not to undermine or misinterpret the genuine efforts of Bangladesh."