Bangladesh warns UN, rights groups not to 'misinterpret, undermine genuine efforts’ on Rohingya relocation

  • Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-12-04 21:08:30 BdST

bdnews24
Rohingya refugees boarded navy and army vessels at Jetty No 15 in Chattogram ahead of the move to Bhasan Char island in Noakhali on Friday, Dec 04, 2020.

The government has issued a stern telling-off to the United Nations, rights groups and others in the international community, asking them not to “undermine or misinterpret” its “genuine efforts” following criticisms over the relocation of hundreds of Rohingya refugees to a remote island.

It is “only practical” at this stage that the international community, including the UN, do their part and engage with Myanmar to commence repatriation, which is the only durable solution to this crisis, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday evening.

“At the same time, we urge all to exercise utmost caution not to undermine or misinterpret the genuine efforts of the Government of Bangladesh,"it said in a strongly worded retort.

Instead of being critical of the relocation, the government asked the human rights groups to expend their energy on facilitating the quick, safe repatriation of the refugees to Myanmar.

The relocation of the first batch of 1,642 Rohingya refuges to Bhasan Char from the camps in Cox’s Bazar was based on their willingness to move to the remote island, the foreign ministry said.

The statement came after the UN refugee agency insisted the Myanmar evacuees must be able to make free and informed decisions about the relocation.

The Rohingya refugees of Ukhiya camps reached the island in Noakhali in the afternoon following a nearly four-hour sea journey from Chattogram, where they stayed overnight.  

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR called on the government to uphold its commitment that relocation of Rohingya to the island will be voluntary, spokesman Babar Baloch told a UN briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR stood ready to evaluate conditions on the island to ensure that it is a "safe and sustainable place for refugees to live", if permitted by the government, he said.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Refugees International, also urged the government to stop its plan to ship the refugees to the remote island.

The foreign ministry said the government took the decision to relocate in phases 100,000 refugees “in the face of growing concern over the extreme congestion in the camps of Cox’s Bazar”.

The move also aims to avert any risk of death due to landslides and other unwarranted incidents, according to the statement.

“Accordingly, in the first phase, more than 1600 Rohingyas, who expressed their willingness voluntarily for relocation, have been shifted to Bhasan Char today,” it said.

The other factors behind the plan include the “deteriorating security situation due to prolonged stay of these frustrated people in Cox’s Bazar”, it added.

‘ENHANCED FACILITIES’

The foreign ministry said the government has invested more than $350 million to develop the 13,000 acres island with modern amenities, year-round fresh water, lake and proper infrastructure just so the refugees get “enhanced facilities”.

The other facilities include uninterrupted supply of electricity and water, agricultural plots, cyclone shelters, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, recreation and learning centres, and playgrounds.

 In contrast to the makeshift structures of the camps in Cox’s Bazar, the accommodation in Bhasan Char is strongly-built with concrete foundation which can withstand natural disasters such as cyclones and tidal waves.

Super Cyclone AMPHAN proved the strength of the structures of Bhashan Char. Contrary to the apprehension of some quarters about the feasibility of the island, Bhashan Char stood firm against the massive storm.

Despite the heightened tidal wave during recent cyclone Amphan, all the 1,440 houses and 120 shelter stations in the island remained unharmed.In addition to the government agencies, around 22 NGOs are there to extend all possible support to the relocated Rohingya. For security, the government has deployed police personnel, including policewomen, in the island fully covered with CCTV cameras.

The government’s position on the relocation was “very clear and transparent from the very beginning that any relocation would be entirely on a voluntary basis”, the ministry said.

It noted that a number of Rohingya representatives undertook a “go and see” visit to Bhasan Char to see the facilities and make “an independent and informed choice”.

A number of NGOs and journalists also visited the island. All of them “expressed their high satisfaction at the available facilities”, the statement said.

The UN said it has not been involved in preparations for the movement or the identification of the refugees and has limited information on the overall relocation exercise.

But the foreign ministry said the relocation was preceded by “adequate preparations and consultations held with different stakeholders”.

“Several rounds of discussions, based on the queries of the United Nations, were also arranged and we hope that the international community and the United Nations, as per its mandate, will be involved in the process very soon,” it added.

‘THEY MUST RETURN TO MYANMAR’

The ministry also said that the relocation is a part of the broader plan of the refugees’ repatriation, “which is the only priority” for the government.

“The skill development and livelihood opportunity that the Rohingyas would be able to avail in Bhasan Char would prepare them for their reintegration in the Myanmar society on return. The types of economic activities such as fishing, agriculture, goat rearing, etc that they used to pursue in Rakhine state is available in Bhasan Char.

“The generous people of Bangladesh offered all kinds of assistance to these persecuted Myanmar nationals before any international humanitarian agency stepped in. We set another unique example of humanity in the world by developing a modern island to temporarily accommodate some of these persecuted Rohingyas.

“The Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals and they must return to Myanmar. The Government of Bangladesh is doing its best for the safety and security of these temporarily sheltered Myanmar Nationals,” the statement said.