DHAKA: Despite all preparations being in place, Bangladesh’s government said on Tuesday that it was waiting for a “green signal” from UN agencies to begin relocating the Rohingya to Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh is currently hosting about 1,150,000 Rohingya refugees in squalid camps at Cox’s Bazaar.
The government has planned to relocate about 100,000 Rohingyas to the island to ease pressure on 34 refugees camps in the Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts of Cox’s Bazaar, which are running at full capacity.
At a cost of nearly $275 million, Bangladesh has built several hundred barracks, cyclone centers, community hospitals and mosques on the floating island where refugees will be able to earn a living by working in the agriculture, cattle breeding and fishing sectors.
Several human rights agencies and the US have urged Bangladesh to “postpone” the Rohingya relocation plan “until independent experts can determine that it is a suitable location” as the island is remote and prone to devastation from cyclones.
Alice G. Wells, US acting assistant secretary at the Bureau of South and Central Asia, made the call while delivering her statement at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific last week.
On Oct. 21, during a discussion with the EU, Bangladesh reassured the delegates that the relocation would be done on a “voluntary basis.”
“We can start the relocation process at any moment. But since the relocation has developed some international concerns, the UN agencies will conduct a technical assessment regarding the safety issues in the island,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Ministry, told Arab News.
“We will not start the relocation without any clearance from the UN agencies,” said Kamal, who is also the highest authority for the relocation process.
He said that Bangladesh authorities will send a group of Rohingya community leaders to Bhasan Char island in the next week to oversee the preparations and safety measures taken by Dhaka.
The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) at Cox’s Bazaar has begun to inform the Rohingya about the move, showing a video clip of the preparations for them at Bhasan Char.
“We are receiving a very positive response from the refugees. So far, we have registered around 7,000 Rohingya who volunteered for the relocation,” said a spokesperson from Ukhia camp, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR has also emphasized “the importance of completing independent and thorough technical assessments” before any relocation.
UNHCR has confirmed that the organization is in touch with the Bangladesh government about the relocation issues.
“Following recent developments, including reports that government officials in the camps have begun identifying refugees for relocation, the UN has reached out to the government seeking clarifications on its relocation plan and the next steps in the process,” Louise Donovan, UNHCR spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.
“The UN wants to understand the government’s planning, particularly as it relates to the critical protection and operational issues that should be considered before any relocations take place. These should include refugees’ access to basic rights and services, justice and governance, education and livelihoods opportunities, and their ability to move within Bhasan Char and to and from the mainland, Donovan said.