Int'l community urged to fulfill their responsibility to start repatriation

In the face of growing concerns over the extreme congestion in Cox's Bazar camps and to avert any risk of death due to landslides and other unwarranted incidents, the government of Bangladesh has decided to relocate, in phases, 1,00,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char.

Accordingly, in the first phase, more than 1,600 Rohingyas who expressed their willingness voluntarily for relocation were shifted to Bhashan Char on December 4 though human rights bodies created much noises asking Bangladesh to halt the relocation process.

Bangladesh has urged all to exercise utmost caution not to undermine or misinterpret the genuine efforts of the government of Bangladesh noting that the voluntary relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char has become imperative to decongest the overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar.

"The Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals and they must return to Myanmar. The government of Bangladesh is doing its best for the safety and security of these temporarily sheltered Myanmar Nationals," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in a statement.

Bangladesh has encouraged human rights groups to put their efforts in creating a conducive environment inside Myanmar for their quick, safe and dignified repatriation to their land of origin, Myanmar.

At this stage, it is only practical that the international community, including the United Nations, fulfills its responsibility and meaningfully engage with Myanmar to start repatriation, which is the only durable solution to this crisis, the statement reads.

The relocation has become imperative to decongest the overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar that have temporarily been accommodating nearly a million of Rohingyas with many more thousands born each year, said the MoFA statement.

It said the deteriorating security situation due to prolonged stay of these frustrated people in Cox's Bazar also compelled the government of Bangladesh to come up with a contingency plan and develop Bhashan Char from its own budgetary allocation.

Bhasan Char Facilities

Accordingly, the government invested more than USD 350.00 million to develop the island.

The 13,000 acres of island has all modern amenities, year-round fresh water, beautiful lake and proper infrastructure and enhanced facilities, MoFA said.

These include uninterrupted supply of electricity and water, agricultural plots, cyclone shelters, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, police station, recreation and learning centers, playgrounds, etc.

Unlike the makeshift structures of the camps in Cox's Bazar, the accommodation in Bhashan Char is strongly-built with concrete foundation which can withstand natural disasters such as cyclones and tidal waves, said the government.

Super Cyclone Amphan proved the strength of the structures of Bhashan Char, it said.

Contrary to the apprehension of some quarters about the feasibility of the island, Bhashan Char stood firm against the massive storm, said the government.

Despite the heightened tidal wave, all the 1,440 houses and 120 shelter stations in the island remained unharmed, the statement said.

The island is connected with the mainland through waterways.

The MoFA said the government of Bangladesh has ensured adequate supply of food along with proper sanitation and medical facilities for Rohingyas in Bhashan Char.

Appropriate hospitals with highly-qualified health professionals, adequate Covid testing and treatment facilities are there in place, it said.

In addition to government agencies, around 22 NGOs are already there to extend all possible support to the relocated Rohingyas.

Adequate security has been ensured in the island with the deployment of police personnel, including female police and the area is fully covered with CCTV cameras.

On the relocation, the government said its position was very clear and transparent from the very beginning that any relocation would be entirely on a voluntary basis.

Accordingly, a good number of Rohingya representatives undertook a "go-and-see" visit to Bhashan Char to see the facilities and make an independent and informed choice, MoFA said.

A number of NGOs and journalists also visited the island.

All of them expressed their high satisfaction at the available facilities in Bhashan Char, MoFA said.

A media team and a group of senior journalists are already in Bhashan Char.

More importantly, the relocation was preceded by adequate preparations and consultations held with different stakeholders, the ministry said.

"Several rounds of discussions, based on the queries of the United Nations, were also arranged and we hope that the international community and the United Nations, as per its mandate, will be involved in the process very soon," the statement reads.

The relocation is part of the broader plan of repatriation which is the only priority for the Government of Bangladesh.

MoFA said the skill development and livelihood opportunity that the Rohingyas would be able to avail in Bhashan Char would prepare them for their reintegration in the Myanmar society on return.

The types of economic activities such as fishing, agriculture, goat rearing, etc that they used to pursue in Rakhine state are available in Bhashan Char.

When the persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar were fleeing en masse from the violence, persecution and atrocities in the hands of their own people in their own land, it was Bangladesh who, purely out of humanitarian gesture, responded immediately and opened her borders and thus saved nearly a million of precious lives, MoFA reminded the international community.

The generous people of Bangladesh offered all kinds of assistance to these persecuted Myanmar nationals before any international humanitarian agency stepped in, said the government.

"We set another unique example of humanity in the world by developing a modern island to temporarily accommodate some of these persecuted Rohingyas," the statement reads.

Alhamdulillah: More than Happy

Sayed Ullah, one of the Rohingyas landed in Bhasan Char on Friday, could not hold his feelings of extreme happiness seeing all the facilities there and kept calling relatives back in Cox's Bazar camps to join the next batch.

"Alhamdulillah. We are extremely happy. I had never imagined that such a beautiful place is waiting for us with so many facilities," he told UNB over phone.

Syed made dozens of phone calls to his relatives and friends who are still living in Cox's Bazar camps and encouraged them to join the second batch without any hesitation.

"I kept calling them. That's the first thing I did after my arrival in Bhasan Char," he said.

The 30-year-old Rohingya man along with his wife, three daughters and only son reached Bhasan Char on December 4.

"Nobody did force us to come here. I came here voluntarily. Everybody will be willing to come here once they see the facilities," he said.

The Rohingya man said he had a little bit of fear in mind and prayed to Almighty Allah all the way to Bhasan Char by ship. "We are more than happy now. Everybody looks happy here. We thank Allah as we got more than what we thought of."

His brothers and sisters are still in Cox's Bazar though many distant relatives are also with him in Bhasan Char.

Syed Ullah expressed satisfaction seeing mosques, housing facilities better than Cox's Bazar and necessary things.

"We are going to Bhasan Char. Nobody did force me or other members of my family," one of the Rohingya mothers said expressing satisfaction over their relocation from the crowded camps.

Repatriation attempter failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.

On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on "Physical Arrangement", which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

Bangladesh thinks Rohingyas will "jeopardise regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their place of origin.

UN Mandate

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said the United Nations should help Rohingyas in Bhasan Char following the mandate on the basis of which the UN works in Bangladesh.

"They (UN) should follow their mandate (on refugees). It doesn't matter where they're living," he said.

Dr Momen said the UN should not think of whether the Rohingyas are living in Kutupalong, Bhasan Char or somewhere else. "It's their mandate to help them (refugees). They should do it."

He said the government is currently providing food assistance to Rohingyas in Bhasan Char but hoped that the UN will come forward to its agencies to help Rohingyas.

Responding to a question, Dr Momen said the relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char will have no negative impact on repatriation efforts.

"We've made this arrangement for a short period. Maybe these people will get back to Myanmar in the first batch when Myanmar will start taking back Rohingyas from Bangladesh," he said.

Responding to a question over 300 Rohingyas rescued from the sea, Dr Momen said Bangladesh saved their lives when no country came forward.

"They were dying. Nobody did accept them," he said adding their all eight neighbouring countries had equal responsibility to save those floating Rohingyas.

Dr Momen said they have no right to talk about these rescued Rohingyas from the sea those who talk about human rights but did not come forward to help these groups of Rohingyas.

Dr Momen said Bhasan Char is a temporary arrangement while Rohingya repatriation remains a permanent solution.

"We want solution. Myanmar created the problem and the solution lies with Myanmar. Rohingyas must go back to Rakhine. That's our target," he said.

The Foreign Minister said people have very poor idea about the Bhasan Char and its facilities.

He said the government will relocate more Rohingyas to Bhasan Char but only those who are willing to go voluntarily.

Responding to a question, Dr Momen said the UN remains engaged with everything since day one but they go for "pick and choose" which is very "unfortunate."

The Foreign Minister also raised question about the transparency of fund management by the UN agencies.

"They are raising funds in the name of Bangladesh and Rohingyas. They spend the money. But we don't know how they spend. Is there any transparency in their spending?," Dr Momen said.

UN Recognises Investment

UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Mia Seppo said all the UN agencies recognise the enormous investment that the government of Bangladesh has made in building Bhasan Char for Rohingya relocation.

"We recognise the enormous investment...that's obviously a sign of the search for solutions in managing the situation," she told journalists after attending a programme marking the International Volunteer Day.

The UNRC said the ultimate solution of the Rohingya crisis of course lies in Myanmar and it is Myanmar's responsibility to create conducive conditions for return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State.

She said all the UN agencies recognise the generosity of Bangladesh in hosting Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar. "That's a difficult situation."

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar, and majority of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017 amid military crackdowns on the mainly-Muslim ethnic minority by the Myanmar security forces.

Lip Services

Foreign Minister Dr Momen said the global leadership and the UN agencies have been extending lip services to the persecuted people of Myanmar and making statements again and again but no one came forward either for their relocation or sending them back to their country of origin - Myanmar.

He said relocation of Rohingyas is taking place in phases in order to avoid deaths and accidents due to landslides and other untoward incidents in the overcrowded hilly areas of Kutopalong where drug trafficking, fleshtrade and law and order situation have been deteriorating and also to provide better living condition for the time being.

Dr Momen said that while the international agencies make noise about facilities in the Rohingya camps or Bhasan Char, no one had the courage and sincerity to approach Myanmar to create conducive environment leading to their repatriation to their own country in safety and security and in a dignified way for the wellbeing of Myanmar.

If these desparate people with no hope for the future are left alone, there is always a possibility of pockets of radicalism and terrorism, and this may create uncertainty in the region, frustrating the ongoing developnent projects in Myanmar, said the Foreign Minister.

Over the last three years, trade and investment from European, ASEAN, China, Japan, UK have increased manyfold in Myanmar in spite of violation of human rights in Myanmar, Dr Momen observed.

He said none of the human rights organisations have started any blockade of those countries that are heavily investing in Myanmar, nor asking for divestment as they did in the case of Apartheid in South Africa.

"Fact of the matter is, the Rohingya problem was created by Myanmar and they are the only one who can solve it," he said.

Dr Momen said all international organisations and important countries of the world must commit themselves to approach Myanmar in a meaningful way to resolve this crisis.

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