UNHCR Set to Start Humanitarian Ops for Rohingya in Remote Island – BenarNews

After months of negotiations, the United Nations refugee agency will begin humanitarian operations on a remote island where Bangladesh has displaced nearly 19,000 Rohingya and plans to relocate more than 80,000 others, a senior minister told BenarNews on Friday.

The government and UNHCR are set to sign a memorandum this weekend, according to Enamur Rahman, state minister to the Minister of Disaster Management. He did not say when the refugee agency’s work on the island would begin.

“UNHCR has finally agreed to start their operation in Bhashan Char. They will sign an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] with my ministry on Saturday, ”Rahman told BenarNews.

Bangladesh has built houses on the remote island of Bengal so that it can relocate refugees there from overcrowded camps to Cox’s Bazar, a mainland southeastern district near the Myanmar border.

BenarNews contacted the refugee agency’s office in Dhaka and its headquarters in Geneva on Friday, but did not immediately hear back. However, UNHCR confirmed to news agency Agence France-Presse that it was signing the memorandum.

“After the signing of the MoU, UNHCR will conduct operations in the same way they do now in the Cox’s Bazar camps – UNHCR will provide food, health and other humanitarian services to the Rohingya in Bhashan Char,” said minister Rahman.

Currently, local NGOs are providing food and health services for the Rohingya in Bhashan Char, he said.

Those who fled the island said they get food for free, but the quality and variety is better at Cox’s Bazar. Health care facilities are also better on the mainland.

Rahman said he hopes Rohingya will prefer to move to the island from the crowded Cox’s Bazar once UNHCR begins humanitarian work there.

“We plan to relocate some 83,000 more Rohingya to Bhashan Char in stages,” he said.

Cox’s Bx hosts about 1 million Rohingya. The refugees include more than 740,000 who fled Myanmar after the military launched a brutal offensive in August 2017 against the community in their own state of Rakhine.

But the influx of a large population of refugees has forced the economy and hosts communities in the coastal border district. In addition, temporary shanties in 34 refugee camps on the mainland are fire hazards.

To alleviate that pressure, and as the prospects of the repatriation of refugees have become more intense, Bangladesh has built facilities in Bhashan Char – it says it cost $ 280 million – with the goal of relocating 100,000 refugees. refugees there.

The first batch of Rohingya moved in December 2020.

Some rights groups have accused the Rohingya of not voluntarily migrating to the island, as the Bangladesh government insists. Others have alleged that the government had wrongly promised refugees citizenship if they moved to Bhashan Char.

BenarNews has not been able to substantiate any of these allegations.

Meanwhile, some Rohingya and rights groups say that since the migration, hundreds of refugees have fled to the remote island, some dying for their lives. In August, 11 Rohingya were killed and 15 were missing after their boat capsized in bad weather when they tried to escape the island.

Some fled because of poor facilities and others because they had nothing to do there. They said they were not allowed to leave towards the mainland for shopping trips or to meet relatives.

Senior UNHCR officials Gillian Triggs (center) and Raouf Mazou (left) respond to questions from reporters in Dhaka as Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen looks at it, June 2, 2021. [Jesmin Papri/BenarNews]

‘Better facilities’

Abdul Kader, a Rohingya leader on the island, said he moved to Bhashan Char hoping there would be economic opportunities there.

“But there is no source of revenue here,” Kader told BenarNews by phone on Friday.

Si Md. Yunuch, a leader of a cluster of eight settlements in Bhashan Char, said he was hopeful about starting a UNHCR operation on the island.

“We are happy that UNHCR will provide us with humanitarian services in Bhashan Char. We will get facilities like camps in Cox’s Bazar, and the trend of escape to the camps will go down,” Yunuch told BenarNews in by phone on Friday.

“Because UNHCR doesn’t work here, we don’t get facilities like Cox’s Bazar camps,” Yunuch said.

Si Md. Zbair, secretary of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said he wanted to wait and see how things would change with the presence of the UNHCR on the island.

“If they get better facilities, more Rohingya will be interested in moving to Bhashan Char,” he told BenarNews.

For years, international rights and refugee groups, including the UN, have criticized Bangladesh for planning to relocate Rohingya to the island, which they say lacks adequate facilities and is barely accessible.

In part, their criticism came from the UN saying Bangladesh, for more than two years, had refused numerous requests for its officials to visit Bhashan Char. The world body wants to conduct a technical analysis of the island using international experts, it said.

UN officials are finally allowed to visit in March. Their journey was followed by separate visits conducted by the Red Cross and messengers from many countries contributing to the Rohingya response.

Then in June, UN officials for the first time endorsed Bangladesh’s decision to transfer the Rohingya to Bhashan Char, but said economic activities should be created for “isolated” residents. area in the Bay of Bengal.

Munshi Faiz Ahmad, a former chairman of the foreign minister’s think-tank, the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, said the UNHCR agreeing to work with Bhashan Char would give Rohingya the confidence to move and also benefit from those on the mainland.

“Housing and other facilities in Bhashan Char are better than in Cox’s Bazar. The camps in Cox’s Bazar will be less crowded if more Rohingya move to Bhashan Char,” he said.

“Rohingya people are pushed into the sale of illicit drugs, internecine violence and other social evils [in Cox’s Bazar]. But in Bhashan Char, they will not encounter such problems. They will involve themselves in economic activities. “

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