Dhaka, MINA -Bangladesh is planning to send a further 80,000 Rohingya refugees to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal next month, officials said on Saturday after signing an agreement with the UN refugee agency to begin operations there, Arab News reported.
Since December 2020, Bangladeshi authorities have moved 20,000 out of a planned 100,000 people to the island to take pressure off Cox’s Bazar, which already hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims.
They are members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
When the relocation started, the UNHCR criticized the $350 million project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as the island, 68 km from the mainland, is vulnerable to severe weather and flooding.
However, the agency’s representatives visited the island in March, and recognized its “potential” to be an “alternative temporary location” for some Rohingya refugees.
In accordance with the memorandum of understanding signed with the Bangladeshi government on Saturday, the UNHCR said it is starting “close cooperation” with the authorities for its operations on the island in the areas of protection, education, skill training, livelihood and health, to “help to support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for a sustainable return to Myanmar in the future.”
Bangladesh’s Disaster Management and Relief Ministry secretary Mohammad Mohsin said the UN engagement will come into force with immediate effect and will be similar to its operations in Cox’s Bazar.
“We can say that now the UN has engaged itself with the humanitarian response on the island and will start operations on the ground immediately,” he said. “In this context, we hope to relocate the remaining 80,000 Rohingyas to the island in November once the monsoon is over.”
Some critics accused the agency of lacking efficiency for taking almost a year to approve of the Bhasan Char project.
“It seems that the UN has some sort of lack of efficiency as it took so much time to decide on this matter,” Mohammad Touhid Hossain, former foreign secretary of Bangladesh, said.
He added that Bangladesh had “full rights” to decide where it would host refugees who seek asylum on its soil.
“A little late, but the UN has understood it is the Bangladesh government that will decide where the Rohingyas will be placed and the UN should look after the Rohingyas at that particular location,” Hossain said.
Prof. Amena Mohsin, from the International Relations Department of Dhaka University, said that as Bangladesh managed to convince the UN to support the establishment of refugee camps in Bhasan Char, there is a common understanding that it is a temporary solution.
“The world should bear mind that it’s not a sustainable solution,” she told Arab News. “We have relocated the Rohingyas to the island under certain conditions. The world must not forget them. The world community should play more active role to begin the repatriation of the Rohingyas as early as possible.” (T/RE1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)