UN trip to ‘Rohingya island’ delayed

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

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.


UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
Updated 14 min 58 sec ago

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
  • A report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population
  • Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol

LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”