The refugees will not be sent to the island if they don’t want to go, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has reiterated
The government is not sure as to when the Rohingya refugees will be relocated to Bhashan Char, the island in Noakhali district where a new camp has been set up to accommodate some of the Rohingyas currently living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, speaking to reporters at the ministry after an event on Wednesday, said: “I do not know when it will be possible to send the Rohingyas to Bhashan Char. We initially planned to send them in April.”
The government had plans to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char by April 15.
“We were prepared to send the Rohingyas to Bhashan Char [within the pre-decided time frame]. But the United Nations and many other [humanitarian] organizations have expressed concerns that doing so at the moment will not be in their [the Rohingyas’] best interest,” the foreign minister said.
“If everyone finds that doing so will be inconvenient for the Rohingyas, then the government will not send them. However, the houses [in Bhashan Char] are ready for their relocation, should they want to go voluntarily,” the minister added.
The government undertook the housing project, worth an estimated Tk2,312 crore and implemented by the Bangladesh Navy, last year on Bhashan Char – previously known as Thengar Char.
The plan was to move 103,200 Rohingyas to the island – which emerged around 20 years ago in an estuary of the Meghna River, around 21 nautical miles from mainland Noakhali.
The Bangladesh government has assured a comfortable living on the island for the relocated Rohingyas, who will be transferred from the cramped refugee camps spread out in the southeastern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar.
However, the government has also maintained that no Rohingya will be forced to move to Bhashan Char, and any relocation will be voluntary.
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Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingyas, more than 700,000 of whom have entered Cox’s Bazar from Myanmar since August 25, 2017 after crossing the border to flee a brutal military persecution in their homeland in the country's Rakhine state, following an insurgent attack on Myanmar’s Border Guard Police personnel.
After months of concern over the plausibility of the relocation plan, the UN finally welcomed Bangladesh’s decision, albeit with a set of conditions.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Dhaka office of the UN said they appreciated the Bangladesh government’s efforts to seek alternative locations for the Rohingya refugees to settle, which could help to decongest the overcrowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
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The statement further said the UN’s position was to engage constructively with the Bangladesh government on Bhashan Char. “We are discussing with the government the critical protection and operational issues that should be considered before any relocations take place, in order to ensure that refugees would be able to live in safe and sustainable living conditions on Bhasan Char,” it added.
UN said before the relocation takes place, it must be ensured that: a) Rohingyas move to the island voluntarily; b) they are completely aware of the relevant, accurate and timely information on the project; c) information about the living conditions, basic rights and services are clarified for the refugees; and d) there are proper facilities to set up a humanitarian response on the island.