The Bangladesh government has ordered three charities - the internationally-based Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief Bangladesh, as well as the nationally-based Fazlullah Foundation – to stop providing relief to displaced Rohingya fleeing Myanmar due to security concerns.
According to foreign ministry officials, the charities were told to suspend their services in Cox’s Bazar after a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday evening, for their alleged involvement in influencing the Rohingya in the name of relief work.
“The committee has learned that these non-governmental organisations were preaching Islam among the Rohingya people and constructing mosques in the name of relief operations,” Lawmaker Mahjabeen Khaled, a member of the parliamentary standing committee, told the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.
“The committee has recommended that the government scrutinise the services and funding of these charities, and for the relief materials of the charities to be submitted to the deputy commissioner’s office so that they may be distributed under the deputy commissioner’s supervision,” she added, stressing that there were security concerns.
According to the NGO Affairs Bureau of Bangladesh, these charities were carrying out their operations across the country legally, as they were still registered.
“None of these organisations have had their registration cancelled, but they have been asked to stop providing aid to the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. They are still carrying out their operations across the rest of the country,” Md Shahadat Hossain, director (registration and audit) of the bureau, told the Dhaka Tribune.
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“Among them, Muslim Aid’s relief operations for the displaced Rohingya were cancelled last month,” he added.
However, he refused to disclose the reason behind the government decision.
Former foreign minister Dipu Moni, also chair of the parliamentary standing committee on foreign affairs, said they had asked several charities to stop their operations due to some serious allegations against them.
“There were some serious allegations of irregularities against several charities, which were then blacklisted. It is believed that some of them encourage radicalism and provide funds to militants, and we cannot let them do so with Rohingyas,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
When contacted, Muslim Aid’s officials said that they had been carrying out their services with the approval of the NGO Affairs Bureau and stopped their operation in Cox’s Bazar soon after the government’s decision.
“The government asked us to stop providing aid among the Rohingya refugees without clarifying particular reasons and we have withdrawn our relief works instantly,” Md Iqbal Ahmed, head of recourse (mobilisation and advocacy) of Muslim Aid, said.
“Muslim Aid is not affiliated with any other activities except relief work,” he added.
Islamic Relief Bangladesh Coordinator (Media) Safiul Azam said that they had applied for permission from the NGO Affairs Bureau to begin relief operations, but were yet to get a response.
“There are few other organisations under the name ‘Islamic Relief’ and we are yet to know which one is barred from conducting relief operations,” Safiul told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We have not started working in Cox’s Bazar, as we are waiting for the government approval,” he added.
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Fazlullah Foundation Chairman Abu Reza Md Nezamuddin Nadwi, also MP of Chittagong 15, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The foreign ministry has no authority to suspend the activities of NGOs. This falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
He added that he had been in contact with intelligence and Home Ministry officials, who had told him to continue the foundation’s relief work as there were no problems with his organisation.
Nadwi further said that a letter in this regard had been sent from the Ministry of Foreign affairs to the NGO Affairs Bureau.
However, when contacted, NGO Affairs Bureau Director General Khandaker Rakibur Rahman said that the matter was yet to be resolved and he could not comment on whether the NGOs would be allowed to conduct relief operations for the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar.
Over 520,000 displaced Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since August 25 this year, when insurgent attacks on security check posts caused a renewed military crackdown in Rakhine state.
When the Dhaka Tribune spoke to some of the Rohingya at Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar in early October, many of the Muslims among them expressed their desire for proper religious facilities, as their religious freedoms had long been curtailed in Myanmar.