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Bhashan Char: Int'l community softens stance

  • Published at 06:17 pm December 14th, 2020
Bird's eye view of Bhashan Char Courtesy

No decision yet on relocation of second batch, but work ongoing, says additional RRRC

The position of United Nations agencies, the international community and INGOs on the relocation of Rohingyas to Bhashan Char from Cox’s Bazar appears to be softening, multiple sources familiar with the protracted crisis have told Dhaka Tribune.

The relocation of the persecuted people to Bhashan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal under Noakhali district, began on December 4 with 1,642 people. The government plans to relocate nearly 100,000 Rohingyas to the island in order to decongest the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Sources also said no decision has been taken yet on the relocation of the second batch of Rohingyas, but the work is in progress.

Two officials told this correspondent that the UN, international community and INGOs, which were against the relocation before independent comprehensive technical protection assessments, would most likely be onboard before the second batch sailed for Bhashan Char.

A senior foreign ministry official, meanwhile, said that it had forwarded the proposal of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct assessments of the island to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, the line ministry regarding the Rohingya issue, for it to take the matter further.

“I think there has been a change of attitude among the UN agencies, international community and INGOs in relation to Bhashan Char,” said Mohammad Shamsud Douza, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar.

“Positive,” he replied when asked about the nature of change.

About the timeframe for the transfer of a second batch of Rohingyas, the official said: “The government has not taken any decision in this regard. It is a complicated task. We are working on it.”

On the UN Special Rapporteur’s recent demand for verification of the willingness of relocated Rohingyas, he said: “All the Rohingyas went to Bhashan Char willingly. The UN can speak to them if it so wishes.

“I am pretty sure that INGOs will work in Bhashan Char. Speaking to a few of them, I have gotten the idea that they are willing to work on the island,” said Saiful Islam Chowdhury Kalim, executive director of Pulse Bangladesh and chief of the newly-formed NGO Alliance in Bhashan Char.

At present, 24-25 Bangladeshi NGOs are working on Bhashan Char to provide services to the Rohingyas.

Kalim said: “The international actors are assessing the situation now. It is still early days. I think things will be settled within the next two to three months. By then, I feel that there will be an understanding between the government and the international community.

“Currently, the local NGOs are capable of taking care of the relocated people,” he said.

“As far as I know, several western ambassadors expressed their interest in visiting the island. They are welcome,” said a top official of the government deeply involved with the Bhashan Char project, developed by Bangladesh Navy at a cost of nearly Tk3,100 crore.

In response to a question, he said: “I do not think there will be any further movement of Rohingyas until the international community is onboard, due to many reasons including financial ones.

“The government of Bangladesh should not bear the cost of looking after the Rohingyas,” he added.

UN and international community on relocation   

The United Nations and the international community never rejected the relocation idea of the government. They always said that the relocation must take place after independent technical and protection assessments, and that the transfer must be voluntary and informed. They will operationally engage with the government, including on the budget, once these conditions are met.

The government has always maintained that all the conditions were met and is willing to take the international community onboard.

Speaking to several diplomats, it has been learned that the UN and international community want to learn more before they make their next move.

MoFA for further discussions about UNHCR-proposed independent assessments

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already forwarded the UNHCR’s proposal for independent assessments on Bhashan Char to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, along with observation.

“We have already sent the UNHCR proposal to the Ministry of Disaster and Relief, the line ministry in relation to the Rohingya crisis. Now, they will take the matter forward,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

When asked about the observations of the Foreign Ministry, he said: “Further discussions are necessary on the terms of reference proposed by the UNHCR.”

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