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.


Pakistan, Turkey, Armenia close Iranian border, Afghanistan bans travel over coronavirus fears

Updated 23 February 2020

Pakistan, Turkey, Armenia close Iranian border, Afghanistan bans travel over coronavirus fears

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a Facebook post on Sunday said the country is closing its border with Iran for two weeks and suspending air traffic after reports of coronavirus cases there. Turkey also said it would “temporarily” shut its border with Iran.

Moreover, the Kuwait Port Authority also announced a ban on the entry of all ships from the Islamic republic.

(With AFP and Reuters)