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.


Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

Updated 06 June 2020

Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as coronavirus infections surge

  • Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours

KABUL: Afghanistan is running out of hospital beds as suspected cases of coronavirus surge, officials said on Saturday, warning “there is a disaster coming” in the impoverished country.
Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 19,551.
“Our (hospital) beds are almost full, we won’t have any more capacity very soon,” Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters.
Officials said the number of cases were more than expected, including in the capital Kabul, the epicenter of the disease.
“There is a disaster coming,” said Kabul governor Mohammad Yakub Haidary at a joint press conference with the health minister.
He said in Kabul alone there could be a million people infected with the deadly virus.
So far there have been 327 confirmed deaths in the country.
“We have reports of increasing suspected deaths, people burying dead bodies at night,” Haidary said.
“We fill 10-15 ambulances of dead people every day.”
The virus’s spread has surged amid a nationwide lockdown that residents have largely ignored, with many daily wage earners taking their chances with the disease rather than lose a day’s work.
But the minister said that from Sunday the authorities will strictly impose measures like wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing for the next three months in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Experts say that Afghanistan is able to test only about 20 percent of its daily suspected coronavirus cases.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement Tuesday that “between 80 to 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested,” citing figures provided to them by the health ministry which said between 10,000 and 20,000 samples were being received per day.
The charity warned that Afghanistan was on the brink of a health crisis after confirmed cases spiked by 684 percent in May.
Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tests coming back positive — about 40 percent — the IRC said, indicating high levels of undetected infections.
The spike in cases came after Afghanistan grappled with rising violence in recent months that diverted vital attention and resources away from the fight against the disease.
The country’s few hospitals focus mainly on basic care and trauma wounds and lack the expertise and equipment needed to deal with infectious diseases.