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An uncertain future of rohingya refugees


Rayhan Ahmed Topader:


Since the 26 August 2017 influx of the

Rohingya community into Bangladesh, particularly in the Cox’s Bazar district, the country has been subjected to phenomenal challenges. While the initial issues were to arrange food and accommodation for a community who had no other option but to flee their homeland, gradually the nature of challenges diversified. This article identifies the relationship between the local community and the Rohingya community in the Cox’s Bazar district in the aftermath of the influx. While doing so, it unfolds different types of tension and difficulties that emerged in the area due to the Rohingya influx. It concludes that the influx has fundamentally affected and altered the lives of the locals, which must be taken into consideration by the Government of Bangladesh in its plans for this region. Rohingya refugees are transported on a naval vessel to Bhashan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal.About 1,000 Rohingya refugees will be moved to a remote, cyclone-prone island despite calls by rights groups to stop relocation.Bangladesh is set to move a second batch of Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal this month, officials say, despite calls by rights groups not to carry out further relocations. But the UN has said it has not been allowed to carry out a technical and safety assessment of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there.

Bangladesh says it is transferring only people who are willing to go and the move will ease chronic overcrowding in the Cox’s Bazar camps that are home to more than one million Rohingya.But refugees and humanitarian workers say some of the Rohingya have been coerced into going to the island, which emerged from the sea only 20 years ago. Several attempts at repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar have failed after the refugees said they were too fearful of further violence to return. The flotilla that sailed from the port of Chattogram in southern Bangladesh on December 4th was carrying some 1,642 refugees to a new life across the water. But their destination was no far-off promised land. It took less than four hours’ churning through the wide, muddy estuary of the Meghna River to reach Bhasan Char, an island no bigger than a large city park, and so freshly formed it barely peeps above surrounding tidal flats  It is here, improbably, that the government of Bangladesh has built a red-roofed, grid-patterned model town, intended to house Rohingyas, an ethnic minority from neighbouring Myanmar. Some 700,000 of them were chased into Bangladesh three years ago by the Burmese army and allied militias in a horrifying bout of ethnic cleansing. Bhasan Char can house about 100,000. The hosts present the new settlement, erected at a cost of $300m by the Bangladeshi navy, as a safe, sanitary and humane alternative to the teeming and squalid refugee camps that have mushroomed along the jungly border.

A major limitation of the project has been the lack of participation of key stakeholders in identifying and planning the facility. In all likelihood the project planners were guided by state security considerations rather than human security concerns of the inmates. Anyone would find the concrete structures with rooms and shared kitchen and toilet arrangements, lighting and running water facilities as way better than those that the refugees have to put with at their present sites in the mega camp. The important element missing in this approach is just like the rest of us, refugees are also social beings. Like us they fear isolation and loneliness and long for freedom of movement.The failure of the authorities to deliver on their commitments to conduct technical and protection assessments to review the safety, feasibility and sustainability” before putting the facility into operation to the satisfaction of key stakeholders has further accentuated the concerns. UN’s first technical assessment mission was scheduled from November 17 to 19, 2019, but was shelved subsequently. No fresh date was announced. The authorities’ reneging on their pledge that relocations would be voluntary and based on explicit consent has further compromised the current effort. The UN claimed it had limited information on the relocation efforts and was not involved in the process.

Concerns have also been expressed that no effective protection mechanism has been put in place at the Bhashan Char. The United States concurs with the UN that any such relocations must be fully voluntary and based on informed consent without pressure or coercion. Bangladesh has stated that Rohingya refugees may return to camps on the mainland if they choose. The United States calls on the Government of Bangladesh to adhere to this commitment and demonstrate respect for the human rights of refugees relocated to Bhasan Char, including freedom of movement, by facilitating refugees’ ability to move to and from Cox’s Bazar. Refugees on Bhasan Char should have access to livelihoods and basic services, such as education and health care. With the UN and likeminded donors, the United States has asked for Bangladesh to accept the UN’s offer of thorough and independent technical and protection assessments to determine the safety, feasibility, and desirability of relocating refugees there. Independent access to Bhasan Char will help to confirm whether refugees were relocated voluntarily and remain there voluntarily, and suitability of the site to withstand cyclones and seasonal flooding.The United States also calls again upon Burma to create the conditions conducive for Rohingya refugees voluntary, safe, and dignified return.

They are coordinating closely with the international community, in consultation with affected communities, to promote such efforts. Also United States supports the pursuit of comprehensive solutions for Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons. We are the leading contributor of humanitarian assistance in response to the Rakhine State crisis, providing nearly $1.2 billion since the escalation of violence in August 2017, of which nearly $962 million is for programs inside Bangladesh; these programs provide support to host communities, as well as Rohingya refugees. On October 22, the United States hosted, together with the EU, UK, and UNHCR, a virtual donor conference entitled “Sustaining Support for the Rohingya Refugee Response” that attracted participation from 34 additional countries and generated nearly $600 million in funding announcements from 25 donors. We encourage the Government of Bangladesh to continue coordinating with the international community to ensure funding for this crisis response and to work toward durable solutions in a manner that is consistent with international norms and respects the human rights of each individual.The decision of the authorities to execute the project without delivering on the pledges made earlier has triggered controversy and confusion.

It has also brought needless focus on Bangladesh’s treatment of the Rohingyas while the real perpetrator appears to remain scot free. The frustration of Bangladeshi policymakers at the hypocrisy of the global actors in addressing the Rohingya problem is understandable. However, that should not be the premise to make hasty decisions, inflicting harm on the genocide survivors compromising Bangladesh’s hard earned accolade as the champion of the refugee cause.

Writer and Columnist

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