UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed

Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, August 25, 2019. (AFP/File)
Updated 25 November 2019

UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed

  • The new date of the visit will be fixed after receiving the details of the terms of reference from the UN

DHAKA: A proposed visit by a UN technical team to an island built exclusively for Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh has been postponed after Dhaka insisted on seeing the “terms of reference” for the trip, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

In a bid to decongest the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s government set up housing facilities for nearly 100,000 Rohingya on Bhasan Char island, located in the Bay of Bengal.

Calling the island “isolated” and “flood prone,” the UN and some other humanitarian organizations have opposed the relocation idea for the past two years.  

However, in a recent development during the second week of November, the UN agreed to send a joint technical team to oversee the safety measures and facilities available on the island, which has been built at a cost of $275 million by the Bangladeshi government. The proposed visit was supposed to take place from Nov. 17-19.

Bangladesh government’s senior secretary of disaster management ministry, Shah Kamal, said that a UN team had visited the island earlier, but requested another visit. 

“We wanted to know exactly what are the areas the UN technical team will examine during their visit to Bhashan Char island so that our government can ensure the necessary preparations accordingly,” Kamal told Arab News. 

“The new date of the visit will be fixed after receiving the details of the terms of reference from the UN. To date, we know that they will send a 11-member team,” he said.  

Kamal added that a technical expert team from Bangladesh will accompany the UN team during their visit to the island.  

Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) at Cox’s Bazar, said that Bangladesh and the UN are “discussing the next steps.”

“The UN is prepared to move forward with the initial assessment missions at the earliest possible date. The government and the UN have agreed, however, to postpone the visit proposed for Nov. 17 to 19, to ensure that the right experts are on hand and all necessary logistical arrangements are in place,” Donovan told Arab News.  

“We are awaiting confirmation of an alternative date and are also submitting terms of reference to the government for these onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Donovan said on Sunday, adding that “they have not yet been submitted.”

Kamal said that so far nearly 10,000 Rohingya have voluntarily enrolled to relocate to the island.  

“After the visit of the UN assessment team, we will send a group of Majhi (Rohingya community leaders) to the island to witness the preparations over there so that they can share and motivate others about the living facilities we have built for them,” he said.  

To protect Bhasan Char island from tidal floods and natural disasters, the Bangladesh navy has built a 13km- long embankment with a height of three meters and a width of 37 meters.

A total of 120 cluster villages are ready to accommodate about 100,000 Rohingya. Each of the houses has concrete breeze-block rooms measuring 2m x 2.5m with small barred windows and here one toilet is designated for every 11 people. At Cox’s Bazar refugee camps the ratio is 1:22.  

To ensure the safety of the Rohingya during cyclones, there are 120 cyclone shelters that were built 4 ft above the land, and these shelters will be used as hospitals, schools and community centers throughout the year. 

The first floor of these shelters is 10 ft above the ground floor, providing safety from tidal surges up to a height of 14 ft. Deep tube wells are in place for safe drinking water. 

There are also playgrounds for the Rohingya children and prayer halls for the community. 

In addition, the Rohingya will have livelihood opportunities through farming, cattle rearing and fishing. 

Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution orchestrated by the Myanmar army in the predominantly Buddhist majority country.


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.