The island now wears the look of a township with rows of single-storey red tin-roofed houses and multi-storey shelters
Upon our arrival on the shores of Bhasan Char, we were approached by a string of strong pillars – the first line of defence of the island from the powerful current of the sea.
Disembarking from the boat, we moved through a layer of planted mangroves, and afterwards, the main nine-foot high embankment stretching along 12 kilometres of the island.
Then, a three-storey luxury cottage for dignitaries caught our attention.
Through the woods, we could see a vast area ahead covered by red tin-roofed houses.
With around 13,000 acres of land, Bhasan Char now wears the look of a township with rows of single-storey red tin-roofed houses and multi-storey shelters.
The remote island in Hatia upazila of Noakhali is well-equipped with modern facilities including: schools, mosques, community clinics, mobile networks, and internet – to provide shelter for one lakh Rohingya people, officials said.
The visitors eventually expressed their satisfaction with the arrangement.
Among the visitors, Professor Sadeka Halim, dean of the social sciences faculty at the University of Dhaka, said the living standard on Bhasan Char island will be much better than that at the Kutupalong and Ukhiya Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar.
"Facilities on the island seem well-planned. They [the Rohingya people] will have a healthy life here," she added.
To Sadeka, and perhaps to others, rehabilitating the Rohingya people to such a good place shows Bangladesh's government's generosity. "Even when the camp people are repatriated to Myanmar, they will be able to adjust themselves to the socio-economic situation there."
The sociology professor expressed her concern about the poor social and economic conditions of Cox's Bazar district where crime – including illegal trade, the use of narcotics and murder – has increased recently.
Sadeka believes the relocation of the Rohingya people from Cox's Bazar will minimise the negative impacts on the socio-economic conditions of the district significantly. The government also wants to accelerate the relocation process, considering the negative impacts.
Although the project was ready to receive the Rohingya people in 2019, strong resistance from international development partners delayed the process.
Last month, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told journalists the government had decided to start the relocation process in December.
"We are ready to welcome the Rohingya people," Project Director Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury told this correspondent during the visit to Bhasan Char.
Earlier, the government blamed international aid organisations for their failure to relocate the Rohingya people in April.
In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights organisation, urged the Bangladesh government to allow a visit by United Nations (UN) officials to the island before relocating the Rohingya people there.
"Any decision to relocate the Rohingya people to Bhasan Char, after the completion of technical assessments, needs to be voluntary and fully informed," said the New York-based rights watchdog.
However, some Rohingya people were still against relocation, citing the uninhabited island as a cyclone-prone region.
To assure them of their security, the project director said, "We have built a nine-foot high flood protection embankment following a feasibility test and study on data of more than 100 years."
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) recently approved increasing the embankment height to 19 feet and the work is already underway.
Four layers of a protection system have been set up to save the young island, which emerged in the Bay of Bengal, around 39 kilometres from Noakhali, in an estuary of the River Meghna in 2006 from natural disasters, including cyclones.
Recently, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Bangladesh Rensje Teerink sought visits by UN technical and humanitarian protection teams to Bhasan Char.
In December 2017, the government took up Ashrayan Project 3 at a cost of Tk3,100 crore to relocate one lakh Rohingya people to relieve Cox's Bazar – which was overburdened with around one million refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
During the visit to Bhasan Char, it was found that the accommodations and other facilities are equipped with solar systems. There will be sufficient light at night. The island also has a fire station.
With well-planned internal communication networks, human haulers and battery-run rickshaws will ply the roads.
There will be Grameenphone and Robi networks, and state-owned Teletalk will have coverage there soon.
From houses in which to live, to solar panels for electricity, to biogas fuel for cooking, to a waste management system, everything is available on the island.
Each building has the capacity to accommodate 16 families in 16 rooms. Each family, comprising four persons, will get a room in which to live. So, one building will house 64 people, meaning 768 people will be housed in each block.
There are four steel beds, a ceiling fan and a light in each room. Sixteen families will have to share two kitchens, with eight cooking stoves in each. There are a total of six toilets and four bathrooms in each building.
Additionally, there are three warehouses for storing food and other items. There is also a big lake on the island and the process is underway to create another one soon.
Although there are limited scopes for earning money in the existing Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, there will be various means for livelihood on Bhasan Char.
According to the Bangladesh Navy, the project's implementing agency, the Rohingya people will earn from: fishing, poultry farming, sheep and cattle rearing, the cultivation of rice and vegetables, carpentry, handicrafts, tailoring, and providing different community services.
The Bangladesh Navy has already planted paddy, vegetables and trees there. The project director said the project was built on 1,702 acres of land.
"If needed, we can expand the project area. Bhasan Char is surrounded by three other island areas – Hatia to the south, Swarna Dweep to the east, and Sandwip to the northeast," said Commodore Mamun.
He added that the project is aimed at providing shelter for distressed people.
"So, when the Rohingya people go back to their home country, the place will be home to thousands of homeless Bangladeshis," he added.