Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

Rohingya refugees at a market at the Hakimpara refugee camp on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
0

Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees despite HRW warning

  • I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election: Bangladeshi relief management secretary

DHAKA: The Bangladesh government claims to have completed all necessary preparations to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to the newly formed Bhashan Char (floating island) in the Bay of Bengal.

The government has rendered a deaf ear to concerns raised by climate change experts, human rights activists and the refugee community itself about the idea of relocation to the floating island who call the desolate place “uninhabitable.”

Shah Kamal, disaster and relief management secretary of the Bangladesh government, said the government has completed “90 percent of preparations in this regard.” 

He told Arab News that the Bangladesh navy is assisting in construction units for Rohingya refugees and building a dam to protect the island from high tides and cyclones. 

“Our government has built 120 cyclone centers and 141 sheds to ensure comfortable living for Rohingya. Here, the inhabitants will enjoy proper sanitation and bathroom facilities as well,” Kamal said. 

“Each of the sheds will accommodate 16 families and the refugees here will get the opportunities for livelihood through cattle rearing, vegetable cultivation and other income-generating chores,” he added. 

However, although the preparations are almost over, Kamal could not confirm the exact date when the authorities will start the relocation process. 

“I think the government may consider the relocation of the refugees after the general election which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 30,” he said. 

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly opposed the relocation idea. In its recent 68-page report, the HRW warned that the floating island is still “uninhabitable” and “formed only in the last 20 years by silt from Bangladesh’s Meghna River.” 

The island can be “completely submerged during an event of high tide” which will endanger the lives of the people on the island, the report said.

Security concerns

According to HRW, the island is completely separated from the mainland by about 30 kilometers, which would “essentially turn the island into a detention center.” 

Responding to the HRW report, Kamal said: “We have taken all safety measures and addressed all the relevant security concerns.” 

The Rohingya refugees who are proposed for relocation to the island have also strongly rejected the idea.

Abdul Awal, 35, a refugee living in Kutupalang camp, told Arab News: “This relocation to the island will restrict all our movement and eventually it will be a sort of isolation from the mainland. I don’t think any of my fellow refugees will comply with this idea.”

Mohammad Akkas, 42, another refugee of the Jamtoli camp, said: “I have heard about the relocation. However, it’s not clear to me what will happen during the devastating cyclones and medical emergencies. Is it practical to travel 30 kilometers through the rough sea during any emergency situation?“

Climate experts and human rights activists in the country also echoed the voice of the HRW, which opposed the idea of relocation now. 

Dr. Shahidul Islam, a renowned climate change expert from Bangladesh, termed the island as “the most vulnerable place for human beings.”

 “This area is highly prone to high tide and cyclone. During any high tide, the island may be completely submerged under water,” said Islam, a professor at Dhaka University.

 He believes that this relocation will cause “serious ecological” repercussions and create “ocean pollution” in the Bay of Bengal.

 “It may also increase the risk of international human trafficking since the area is isolated from the mainland and accessible to the traffickers through water,” Islam said.

“Already, in Cox’s Bazar, huge environmental damage has been caused by the Rohingyas. Now, if they are relocated to the newly built Bhashan Char, it will also create irreparable loss to the ecology and environment of the island,” Islam said. 

Nur Khan, an eminent human rights activist, said the relocation would “isolate the refugees from the mainland and will make them vulnerable to natural disasters.” 

“However, if it is inevitable that the refugees will be relocated to the island, the government can make it free for all the concerned stakeholders so they all can experience the reality on ground and make suggestions on the relocation idea,” Khan pointed out.

“Considering the present circumstances, I can’t support the refugees’ relocation at this moment,” especially since the HRW has also identified six other feasible relocation sites in its report, said Khan. 

 


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
0

UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.