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.


Manila turns ships, hotels into isolation centers

A fireman sprays disinfectant from the back of a firetruck to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 during a localized quarantine in Manila. (AP)
Updated 43 min 25 sec ago

Manila turns ships, hotels into isolation centers

  • Duterte unveils record $4bn aid package as number of COVID-19 cases passes 2,000

MANILA: The Philippines on Tuesday started earmarking hotels, ships, gyms, and convention centers for use as quarantine areas as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases swept past the 2,000 mark.

The move coincided with an announcement by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to allocate 200 billion pesos ($4 billion) toward helping low-income households severely affected by the health crisis.
“They are the ones in the informal sector and those who live day-to-day on subsistence wages or ‘no-work, no-pay’ arrangements,” he said.
On Tuesday the Philippines recorded 538 new COVID-19 infections – the highest single-day increase since the start of the outbreak — taking the total number of cases in the country to 2,084, with 88 deaths and 49 recovered patients.
Cabinet secretary and spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Karlo Nograles said the country’s health, transportation, and defense departments would be working together to ensure delivery of personal protective equipment for “the front-liners on the ground” fighting the spread of COVID-19.
He added that authorities had been asked to identify suitable buildings and facilities that could be used as quarantine or isolation centers.
Following the arrival of more COVID-19 test kits from abroad, Duterte’s government announced extra measures to tackle the pandemic in anticipation of a further surge in the number of infection cases.
Nograles said the Department of Transportation had been tasked with identifying maritime vessels that could serve as floating quarantine centers, while the Department of Tourism had been asked to draw up a list of hotels and accommodation establishments that could also be made available for patient care.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works and Highways, in cooperation with private entities, will convert the Philippine International Convention Center, World Trade Center, and the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex into isolation facilities.
Local government units (LGUs) will be in charge of furbishing provincial, city, municipal, and barangay quarantine facilities.

FASTFACT

Luzon island, the country’s largest and most populous island, has been under lockdown since March 17 and will remain so until at least April 12.

The LGUs have also been ordered to help in the provision of basic necessities and local transport for residents, and identify individuals to carry out intensive contact tracing, assessments and disinfection operations in their respective localities.
Luzon island, the country’s largest and most populous island, has been under lockdown since March 17 and will remain so until at least April 12.
In an address to the nation on Monday, Duterte announced that the government was undertaking several key measures to overcome and recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“We have allotted 200 billion pesos for low-income households who are severely affected by the current crisis,” he said, adding that it was the largest aid package in the Philippines’ history to make up for the loss of economic opportunities due to the quarantine measures.
He also gave reassurances over supplies of food and other essential goods while imposing a price freeze on commodities.
“We are marshaling and deploying the resources of government to provide our frontline health workers with everything they require so they can save as many lives as possible.
“We are now procuring medical supplies, devices and personal protective equipment. About 1 million medical protective items are being acquired right now, with the government and the private sector working together to purchase or produce the necessary quantities,” Duterte added. The country’s capacity to conduct broader tests has also been ramped up to help give a more accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.