UN stalls relocation plan for 100,000 Rohingya

Thousands of Rohingya refugees staged protests for "justice" on August 25 on the first anniversary of a Myanmar military crackdown that forced them to flee to camps in Bangladesh. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2019

UN stalls relocation plan for 100,000 Rohingya

  • There are more than 1,150,000 Rohingya currently living in 34 squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to a new island in the Bay of Bengal is yet to receive the green light from the UN although authorities on the ground have completed all requirements, officials told Arab News on Tuesday.
The Bhasan Char island project has been built at a cost of $275 million to ease pressure on Bangladesh, which is host to the world’s largest refugee camps at Cox’s Bazaar.
It also aims to provide refugees with better living conditions as they will be able to earn a livelihood through agriculture, cattle breeding and fish farming.
However, the UN insists that the island is “isolated” and “flood prone” and therefore not suitable for the relocation of the Rohingya.
“A joint technical team comprising UN experts and Bangladesh government members will visit the Bhashan Char island from Nov. 17-19. The UN will provide their assessment report after the visit of that technical team,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the disaster management ministry, told Arab News.
He added that representatives from both sides will hold another round of talks on Wednesday,
with the Bangladeshi side to be led by Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque.
“I am hopeful that the UN will agree with the relocation initiative taken by the Bangladesh government,” Kamal said.
UN agencies at Cox’s Bazar have stressed the need to undertake “independent and thorough technical assessments before relocations take place.”
“These assessments focus on such issues as exposure to cyclone risks and other natural hazards, as well as the adequacy of water resources,” Louise Donovan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.
“The critical protection and operational issues must be considered, including refugee access to basic rights and services, such as health care and education, livelihoods opportunities, as well as their ability to move within Bhasan Char and to and from the mainland. We look forward to resuming discussions with the government on these key issues soon,” Donovan said.
Bangladeshi authorities said that they were drawing up a list of Rohingya refugees who were voluntarily relocating to the island.
“(Up to) today, we have received a good number of families who are interested in the relocation. All the families who have enrolled their names came up voluntarily and we are not putting anybody under pressure,” a spokesman from the Kutupalong Rohingya camp told Arab News. He requested not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Mohammad Noor, a Rohingya community leader and secretary of Kutupalong camp 2, said that he had found 56 refugee families from his camp who had volunteered for the relocation.
“I have handed over the list of the families who voluntarily came up to the camp under the charge of the Bangladesh government. But I didn’t hear about any particular date or anything else regarding the relocation,” Noor told Arab News.
He also said that there was no pressure on the Rohingya to relocate: “We are just informing them (the Rohingya) about the facilities and livelihood opportunities built over there for the refugees.”
“From camp 6, a neighboring camp of mine, I have heard that 32 more refugee families have expressed their interest to be relocated,” Noor said.
There are more than 1,150,000 Rohingya currently living in 34 squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.


Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

Updated 13 December 2019

Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

  • The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries
  • The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries

NEW DELHI: A divisive citizenship bill has been signed into law in India, a move that comes amid widespread protests in the country’s northeast that could force the cancelation of a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Two people were killed and 11 injured on Thursday when police opened fire on mobs in Assam state torching buildings and attacking railway stations. Protesters say the law would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.
The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has planned to host Abe at a meeting in Assam next week as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported on Friday that Abe is considering canceling his trip. India’s foreign ministry said it was not in a position to comment on the visit which was originally planned for Dec 15-17.
A movement against immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the resources of the tea growing state and lead to the marginalization of indigenous communities.
Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during World War Two.
Critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government say the bigger problem with the new law is that it is the first time India is using religion as a criterion for granting citizenship and that it excludes Muslims from its ambit.
The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries before 2015.
The Indian Union Muslim League party has petitioned the Supreme Court saying the law was in conflict with the secular principles of India’s constitution that guaranteed equality to all without any regard to religion. No date has yet been set for the hearings.
The party said the law is “prima facie communal” and questioned the exclusion of minorities such as Rohingya Muslims who were just as persecuted as other faiths listed in the law.