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.


As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

Updated 45 min 50 sec ago

As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

  • Third death reported in Wuhan, where outbreak started
  • Total number of cases more than triples to 221

BEIJING: An outbreak of a new coronavirus has spread to more Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, authorities said on Monday, and a fourth case has been reported beyond China’s borders.
China’s National Health Commission confirmed that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can pass from person-to-person, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was a top priority as the number of patients more than tripled and a third person died.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be traveling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered.
“Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. There is more to come from this outbreak,” said Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6 p.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Monday, state television reported, 198 of which were in Wuhan.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” President Xi was quoted as saying by state television.
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in Guangdong province were due to human-to-human transmission, Xinhua said. Some medical staff have been infected, it added, but gave no number.

BEYOND BORDERS
South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had traveled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.
Last week, two cases were reported in Thailand and one in Japan. All three involved people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.
A report by London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by Jan. 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.
“This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person to person transmission,” Farrar said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts.
The Geneva-based UN agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.
China’s state council reiterated the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible, state television said on Monday.
Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged Monday because of the outbreak.
“Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,” said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo
The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS. Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced it to reveal the epidemic.
“Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic,” the editorial said.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, Roxanne Liu, Sophie Yu, Judy Hua and Colin Qian and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Joyce Lee in Seoul, Kate Kelland in London, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)