Bangladesh had wanted to move 100,000 people to the mud-silt island of Bhashan Char
By Shafiqul Alam, Dhaka 5 November 2019
Bangladesh said Sunday plans to relocate thousands of Rohingya living in overcrowded refugee camps to a remote island were “uncertain” after authorities failed to gain support from UN agencies.
Dhaka had wanted to begin its long-held plan this month to move 100,000 people to the mud-silt island of Bhashan Char, as frustration grows with the presence of the squalid tent settlements in its southeastern border towns.
Bangladesh has said thousands of Rohingya families have volunteered to relocate, with some 3,500 of the Muslim minority due to be moved between mid-November to February during calm seas.
But the plan was in doubt as the UN has not supported the relocation so far, Bangladesh disaster management and relief minister Enamur Rahman told AFP.
“This has become uncertain,” Rahman said of the relocation to the island, which takes around three hours to reach by boat.
“They (UN agencies) still haven’t agreed to the relocation plan.”
Aid agencies including the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program (WFP), which held meetings with the government, told him the island was “isolated” and “flood-prone”.
The agencies set out a list of conditions that had to be met, including a regular shipping service between the islet in the Bay of Bengal and the mainland, Rahman added.
The organisations provide humanitarian aid to the nearly one million Rohingya in the vast camps, including 740,000 who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in August 2017.
UNHCR spokesman Louise Donovan told AFP Sunday his agency offered “to engage constructively” with Bangladesh but said the relocation had to be “voluntary”.
“To evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhashan Char, the UN has also emphasised that it will be essential to undertake independent and thorough technical assessments before relocations take place,” Donovan said in an email.
She added that the assessments would look at the risks of natural disasters, adequate water supply and access to basic services — such as health and education — and “their ability to move within Bhashan Char and to and from the mainland”.
Dhaka is due to hold another round of talks with the agencies on Wednesday, Rahman said, adding that “we won’t do anything forcefully”.
Global activist group Fortify Rights said last month it interviewed 14 Rohingya at three camps, including some who appeared on lists of refugees allegedly willing to go, and found none had been consulted “and all opposed it”.
Other groups have also expressed misgivings about moving people to the island, which is regularly hit by devastating cyclones.