DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh were on Tuesday still awaiting the green light from UN inspectors to start the controversial relocation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a newly built $275 million island camp.
Although Dhaka has insisted the tiny island of Bhasan Char is ready to begin receiving families, UN technical experts have yet to carry out health and safety checks.
“Although everything is ready on the ground, we are yet to fix a date to begin the relocation process,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News.
A UN team had been scheduled to visit the island in November last year to assess the safety of facilities and amenities on offer, but the inspection was postponed after Bangladesh asked the UN to explain the reasons for the checks.
“The UN is yet to finalize its technical expert team. Once it has, we will organize the assessment visit,” Kamal said.
Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006. In recent months, several international rights organizations have urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones.
Bangladeshi authorities claim it is safe and includes barracks to house the refugees, cyclone centers, schools, hospitals, mosques, community centers, and children’s playgrounds.
However, following the international pressure, Dhaka said it would only move refugees who had volunteered for the initiative. “So far, we have enrolled 5,200 families who have registered voluntarily for the relocation and the total refugee number will be around 30,000,” Kamal added.
The UN says it has already sent details to the Bangladeshi government regarding the technical team’s visit to the island.
“We are awaiting confirmation from the government regarding alternative dates, as we have shared relevant information with the government of Bangladesh regarding the objectives of the proposed onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.
“The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” she added.
Bangladesh has already spent $275 million to construct the facilities on the island and make it habitable for the Rohingya.
The country currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar which the UN describes as the largest refugee settlement in the world. Around 750,000 of them have fled from the state of Rakhine, in Myanmar since August 2017 following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.