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
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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. 

 


One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

Updated 16 January 2019
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One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

  • The online survey was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies
  • More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment

UNITED NATIONS: One third of UN staff and contractors experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a report released by the United Nations on Tuesday.
The online survey, carried out by Deloitte in November, was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies — just 17 percent of those eligible. In a letter to staff, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the response rate as “moderately low.”
“This tells me two things: first — that we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment; and second — that there may also be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction and lack of accountability,” he wrote.
The survey comes amid the wider “Me Too” movement around the world against sexual harassment and assault.
According to the report, 21.7 percent of respondents said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes, 14.2 percent received offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities and 13 percent were targeted by unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters.
Some 10.9 percent said they were subjected to gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended them, and 10.1 percent were touched in way that made them feel uncomfortable.
More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment, while 17.1 percent said it happened at a work-related social event. Two out of three harassers were male, according to the survey.
Only one in three people said they took action after experiencing sexual harassment.
Guterres said the report contained “some sobering statistics and evidence of what needs to change to make a harassment-free workplace real for all of us.”
“As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard,” he said.
The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against UN peacekeepers in Africa.
The head of the UN agency for HIV and AIDS is also stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent panel said that his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.”