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.


Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

Updated 4 min 34 sec ago

Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia: Hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the European Union are sheltering in forests and ruined former factory buildings near Bosnia’s border with Croatia, with the cold setting in and conditions becoming more miserable.
On a cold Wednesday morning, migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Algiers shivered in their makeshift tent camp high in the woods above the town of Velika Kladusa, built of cardboard and tree branches and covered with nylon sheets.
Some set up fires to warm up and cook modest meals. Others washed themselves and their clothes in a freezing forest stream, and brushed their teeth with ashes.
As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc, trying and often failing to enter and continue their journey.
Migrants and refugees mostly bypassed impoverished Bosnia during their mass movements across the Balkans in 2015-2016, but in recent years the country has become a key transit route after EU countries closed their borders to new arrivals.
“[There are] many problems here,” said Mahmood Abal from Bangladesh. “No rooms, no water, no medical facilities, no sanitation.”
He is one of about 500 men who were turned away from the Bosnian towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa. Authorities are refusing to host large groups of migrants any longer and are preparing to close down some reception centers.
Sympathetic at first to the plight of the migrants, similar to their own during the war in the 1990s when they were forced to flee, Bosnians in the Krajina border region have become anxious, demanding that other regions share the burden.
But in ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina.
Most migrants are smuggled to Bosnia in rubber boats over the Drina River, the natural border with Serbia, said Azur Sljivic, a Bosnian border police officer.
“Many of them drown because the Drina River is unpredictable, full of whirlpools,” Sljivic told Reuters while patrolling along the border in the eastern town of Zvornik.
Yet they do not give up.
On Tuesday night, about 50 migrants left their Bosnian forest tents to try cross the Croatian border.
“Italy, see you soon!,” one of them shouted cheerfully.