Rohingya divided over relocation as awareness campaign begins

Rohingya refugee children play on a swing at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 March 2019

Rohingya divided over relocation as awareness campaign begins

  • Camp authorities have been meeting Rohingya community leaders and imams so they can motivate other refugees to move

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are divided over an island that will become their new home, as government officials try to persuade them to relocate voluntarily.
Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal has been earmarked as the new home for Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in 2017.
The island can accommodate around 100,000 people but activists, climate change experts and rights groups have raised concerns about the plan.
But the Bangladesh government has launched an awareness campaign about life away from the teeming refugee camps.
“We are talking to them about the merits and demerits of the present camp life and the new island life. Many of them realize that further expansion of this camp is not at all possible in this small piece of land in Cox’s Bazar,” one official told Arab News requesting anonymity.
“We have briefed the Rohingyas about the livelihood offerings on the island. For instance, the Rohingyas will get the opportunity for agricultural farming, poultry and cattle rearing, fishing.
“This scope for livelihoods attracted many Rohingyas to relocation. On the island they will have a permanent structured house, which is better than the present plastic sheds and tarpaulins. These better facilities also encouraged a few Rohingyas during my meeting with them,” said the official, who works for the administrative authority in charge of the refugee camps.
But there have been mixed reactions to Bhashan Char.
Sayed Ullah, general secretary of a Rohingya rights group, said nobody was in the mood for island life. “I don’t think any of my fellow (Rohingya) will agree for any voluntary relocation. We don’t want any relocation to any island. We want to be repatriated to our motherland,” he told Arab News.
“Although the present camp life is very hard to endure, we want to stay here until our repatriation.”
But another refugee, Ashraf Alam, welcomed the chance of a better life. “In this over-congested camp we don’t get any opportunity for (earning a) livelihood,” he told Arab News. “If I have the opportunity for farming, fishing … I would like to consider the relocation ideas. For many months I could not feed my children properly. To me, it’s a new opportunity to live a better life.”
Camp authorities have been meeting Rohingya community leaders and imams so they can motivate other refugees to move. Expressions of interest in relocation are also being registered.
Bhashan Char is around 30 kilometers away from the mainland and the only mode of transport for its residents will be boats, with a journey time of three hours or longer depending on the weather.
The main fear regarding relocation is that the whole island might go under water in the event of a cyclone or high tide.
Nobody has lived on the island before. It was declared a forest reserve in 2013 and it also used to be a cattle-rearing field.
Bangladesh began construction work on the island last year and spent around $280 million on shelters, embankments and community spaces. A flood defense embankment has been erected to protect refugee housing during weather events.
More than a million Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, dwarfing the district’s host population.
UN aid agencies have yet to give their approval on the relocation plan, saying the safety and protection of refugees are the most important considerations.
Caroline Gluck, regional public information officer of UNHCR, told Arab News there were ongoing discussions with Dhaka about the “critical protection and operational issues” that needed to be addressed before any voluntary relocations took place to ensure refugees had safe and sustainable living conditions if they chose to relocate.
She said the UN was engaging constructively with the government on its plan and appreciated its efforts to find “alternative safe locations” for refugees to settle which could help de-congest the overcrowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
“However we have only been able to undertake one brief assessment visit last September. The UN and (its) partners have offered to carry out and support further assessments,” she added.
The government is pressing ahead with the relocation plan.
Liberation War Affairs Minister A.K.M. Mozammel Haque told the media last week that Bhashan Char had been made suitable. “Foreign organizations should not concern themselves over the matter and should only deal with humanitarian aspects.”
There is no timeline for relocation and the preparation work is continuing, officials told Arab News.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.