The visit of the United Nations General Assembly president to Bangladesh this week was important for settling an issue that had reared its head as a source of discord in recent times between the government and the world body. Volkan Bozkir, a veteran Turkish diplomat, who is serving in the UNGA role this year, highly appreciated Bangladesh's efforts for the Rohingya refugees in Bhasan Char, even going so far as to say it will be another example to the world on how to deal with refugee issues. Although he couldn't quite visit the island, he was briefed on it and acknowledged the high-level of works there, including precautions and safety measures.
Since December, the government has moved a total of 18,304 Rohingya from the crowded refugee camps in Cox's Bazar district, close to the border with Myanmar, to Bhasan Char, an island lying some 34 kilometres offshore. This had grown into a source of some tension, as the UN wasn't completely on board with the plan from the beginning. It wasn't until March that a team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visited Bhasan Char and acknowledged that the government had made "extensive investments" in infrastructure and safeguards on the flood-prone island.
The team was made up of 18 experts from different UN agencies engaged in the Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh. During the visit, the UN team appraised the needs of Rohingya refugees living on Bhasan Char, including through meetings with Rohingya men, women, boys, and girls. The UN team also met with the local authorities and security agencies working on the island, as well as some of the NGOs and traders operating there. The visit was facilitated and accompanied by officials of the government of Bangladesh.
Of course, no arrangement of any sort should blind us to the larger picture- which is that more than a million Rohingya refugees find themselves caught between the perpetual limbo of the camps and a homeland controlled by the military whose actions forced them to flee in the first place. Since the February coup in Myanmar, which seems to get more and more brutal with each passing week, the goal of voluntary repatriation looks less likely than at any point in the past five years. That has been the priority of Bangladesh and many of its foreign partners since the refugee camps started to swell in 2017, but events on the ground make it increasingly likely that alternative arrangements now have to be considered. The move to Bhasan Char, away from the cramped, vulnerable camps in Cox's Bazar, almost seems farsighted, from this point of view.
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