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UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee visits Bhashan Char

  • Published at 07:30 am January 25th, 2019
Bhashan Char
File photo of construction work to build houses for 100,000 Rohingya refugees at Bhashan Char, in the Bay of Bengal Dhaka Tribune

She visited the island along with a delegation of Bangladesh Foreign Ministry officials

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has visited Bhashan Char; an island in Noakhali to which the government plans to move the Rohingya refugees.

Travelling by helicopter, she visited the remote island along with a delegation of Bangladesh Foreign Ministry officials on Thursday.

Yanghee Lee inspected shelters and other buildings on the island during her visit. She is scheduled to hold a press conference on Friday.

Discussing the matter, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters: “The government is not playing hide and seek on the Bhashan Char issue. The construction is mostly complete, and any interested diplomats will be given a tour of the island.

“We are being our utmost transparent on the issue.”

The Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar are the victims of human rights violations committed in the midst of the violence that erupted in August 2017 in Myanmar; forcing over 800,000 Rohingyas to take shelter in Bangladesh.

They have been living in camps, administered by UNHCR and the government of Bangladesh, with support from a slew of UN agencies and international NGOs since August 2017.

The total number of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh has exceeded 1,000,000. More than one year after an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas remains elusive.

Many international organizations, such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have repeatedly expressed concerns over the safety and security of Rohingya community in Rakhine state after repatriation.

Also Read- UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee to visit Bhashan Char

These organizations have also voiced criticism regarding the Bangladesh government’s decision to relocate the Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was slated to open the new settlement built to house 100,000 refugees on Bhashan Char on October 3.

The controversial plan, first floated in 2015, was already well-behind schedule. Officials previously said they wanted to start moving refugees from overcrowded camps near the border with Myanmar—to the island—in June, before the monsoon season begins.

Bangladesh, a low-lying riverine country vulnerable to rising sea levels, is prone to tropical cyclones—especially in the Bay of Bengal—between April and November. The Bhashan Char Island is one hour by boat from the nearest land but violent storms make the journey by sea dangerous or sometimes impossible.

Rights groups have warned the silty strip is uninhabitable and prone to flooding and other natural disasters, and have urged Bangladesh to reconsider the idea.

Hundreds of thousands have died in Bangladesh from natural disasters in the last 50 years, mostly in coastal areas near Bhashan Char.

The UN, in a recent statement, said the relocation of the Rohingya must be voluntary.

Local officials have pointed to a newly-constructed three-metre high embankment around the island they say will keep out tidal surges in the event of a cyclone, but refugees remain wary.

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