5,000 workers working to further develop the island’s infrastructure and a police station will be set up soon, says disaster management secretary
The government is determined to go ahead with the relocation of nearly 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char Island in order to decongest the cramped Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, senior officials concerned told Dhaka Tribune.
At this moment, the government is in no mood to listen to any objections from any quarters, including the international community, they said, adding that the relocation will begin as soon as humanly possible.
Bhashan Char is an island under the district of Noakhali being developed for relocating nearly 100,000 of over a million persecuted people from Rakhine sheltered in congested camps in Cox’s Bazar. Some 306 Rohingyas have become the first residents of the island after they were rescued from the sea in April. These people had to return to Bangladeshi waters after failing to disembark in Malaysia.
“Certainly, we will relocate about 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char to decongest the camps in Cox’s Bazar,” said Md Mohsin, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, the lead government organization with respect to the Rohingya crisis.
“If we did not want to relocate, we would not spend a huge amount of money on developing the island. AS we speak, 5,000 workers are working to further develop the infrastructure of the island,” he said. The residents of the island will enjoy all kinds of civic amenities, he added.
To a question, Secretary Mohsin said that work is in progress to set up a separate police station to ensure law and order of the residents.
As asked when the relocation will begin, he replied, “As soon as we can…Do not worry you will know.”
Two senior officials from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and Ministry of Foreign Affairs concurred with Secretary Mohsin.
What does the United Nations have to say about the planned relocation?
Generally, the UN-led international community is not opposed to the relocation to decongest the camps provided that the global body is allowed to undertake a visit to the island to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life over there.
As contacted by this correspondent, Louise Donovan, communications officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) based in Cox’s Bazar, said, “The UN has informed the government that it would be prepared to undertake a protection visit to Bhashan Char to meet with the Rohingya refugees transferred to the island and assess their immediate humanitarian and protection situation and specific needs.”
“Terms of reference have been shared with the government, and we are continuing to await feedback. Several months have passed since the refugees were transferred to Bhasan Char, and it is now urgent for the United Nations to have access to them,” she said.
“Following recent media reports of abuses on the island, it is even more urgent that the UN protection visit to Bhasan Char can go ahead as soon as possible in order that we can interview the refugees directly”, she added.
However, Donovan said, “The above is separate from the broader set of protection and technical assessments. The UN’s longstanding position remains that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before relocations to the island take place and that any relocation should be voluntary and follow an inclusive and consultative process.”
“The UN has long been prepared to proceed with this onsite assessment work,” she said.
The response of the government to UN’s request
The government is not saying that it will not allow the UN to inspect the island to evaluate various aspects, but it is saying that it will be done after it is satisfied with the terms of reference of the UN.
“They (UN) will be invited at an appropriate time,” Disaster Management Secretary Mohsin said to a question.
“The UN will not go to the island for a pleasure trip, so we will have to know exactly what they will do on that island,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official with in-depth knowledge of the issue.
When reminded that the UN already shared terms of reference with the government, he said, “We are looking into it. We will get back to them as soon as we have made a decision in this regard.”