POST TIME: 21 March, 2019 08:01:59 AM
Rohingya relocation to Bhashan Char ‘not soon’
Harun Ur Rashid, Dhaka

Rohingya relocation to Bhashan Char ‘not soon’

The government is yet to complete the preparations for relocating one million Rohingyas to Bhashan Char and reach any consensus with the international community in this regard. This has jeopardiesed the entire relocation scheme.

Though the government had earlier set a timeframe to relocate a section of the Rohingyas by April, it may not happen within the given period and no new deadline has been set.

The process of relocation will take place after reaching a consensus with the international community and completion of the remaining tasks at Bhashan Char, an island in Noakhali, according to sources.

The disaster management ministry's senior secretary, Shah Kamal, told The Independent on Sunday: “The relocation is not going to happen soon. We could not reach a consensus with the international community and the United Nations in this regard.”

“Though the place for the relocation is ready, the cyclone centres have not been completed yet. So, we can’t say right now when the relocation will take place,” he said.

Asked about the previous timeframe for the relocation of the Rohingyas, Kamal said: “There is no timeframe right now regarding the shifting of the Rohingyas.”

But he expressed optimism that the matter would be resolved once a consensus between Bangladesh government and the international community was reached.

Earlier, the government had said it would relocate around one lakh Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, but the international community raised questions about the safety of the Myanmarese refugees on that location. Some humanitarian groups criticised the relocation plan, citing the reason that Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal was exposed to frequent cyclones, which could pose a threat to the lives of the Rohingyas, if relocated. A few days ago, disaster management and relief minister Enamur Rahman had revealed the relocation plan during his meeting with the US ambassador to Bangladesh, Earl Robert Miller. The minister then said that houses were being built at Bhashan Char with facilities of water and electricity and proper sanitation arrangements for the Rohingya people.

On March 11, a United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar voiced deep concerns over Bangladesh’s plan to relocate the Rohingya refugees in April to a remote island, saying it may not be habitable and could create a potential “new crisis”.

UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who visited the island in January, told the UN Human Rights Council: “There are a number of things about which I do not know much even after the visit to that island. It’s a concern if the island is truly habitable.”  

“Ill-planned relocation and any relocation without the consent of the refugees concerned can create a new crisis,” she added.

Even Liberation War Affairs minister AKM Mozammel Haque on March 13 said, “Bhashanchar has been developed for a suitable living of the Rohingyas. Bangladesh will  soon decide where the Rohingyas will be kept. Foreigners should not poke their noses into our internal affairs.”

On that day, Earl R Millar welcomed the government’s assurances that the relocation of Rohingyas would be completely voluntary. He said that any relocation to the island would be fully voluntary and those who choose to go would have free movement to and from the island to maintain connections with the rest of the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar. On March 14, Human Rights Watch reported that Bhashan Char would be like a prison.

In the face of such criticism, the government could not reach any consensus with the international community over the relocation of Rohingyas, saying it would be delayed.

Shah Kamal said the Bangladesh Navy was working to develop the project and cyclone centres on the island.

Foreign ministry sources said the relocation of the Rohingyas would be difficult unless an understanding was reached with the international community as the funds came from them.

Bhashan Char, a tiny island, is located in the estuary of the Meghna river. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Hatiya Island from Noakhali on the mainland from where a speedboat takes another 30 minutes to get to Bhashan Char.

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on November 28, 2017, had approved the ‘Asrayan-3 project involving an outlay of about Tk. 2,300 crore to accommodate 100,000 Rohingyas. The Navy is implementing the project, which is likely to be completed within this year. Right now, Bangladesh is hosting over 11 lakh Rohingyas who fled from Rakhaine state of Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 25 last year after a military crackdown.