Bangladesh has informed the United Nation that if the aid agencies do not support the government’s move to relocate around 1 lakh Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char island, the agencies will be asked to leave the country. Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, in an interview with DW, said that the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are overcrowded and some of them need to be relocated to the newly constructed dwellings on the currently uninhabited island on the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh is completing the construction of 1440 buildings on Bhasan Char island, each building meant for 16 families. The rows of identical houses made with concrete blocks and steel with red roofs are almost ready, with a group four buildings around a pond. The housing complex also will have 120 cyclone shelters, built to protect the residents from strong cyclones. These buildings will also function as hospitals, schools, community centres, aid agency offices etc.
The Bhasan Char Island is a new island, formed only twenty years ago from silts. Apart from being hit by cyclones, the island also gets flooded during high tide. To protect from that, a flood barrier has been constructed around the housing complex. The constructions started in 2018, and most of the works have been already completed.
The decision to construct the housing complex on the island was taken after more than 7 lakh Rohingya refugees has entered Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2017. Bangladesh government had settled them in makeshift camps in the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar. The camps made of corrugated metal sheet and tarpaulin are overcrowded, and the entire refugee area has become a hotbed for crimes like murder, abductions and rape. Located near the water, the camps also face regular landslides.
Rohingyas are also increasingly getting involved in crimes, and conflicts with local Bangladeshis are increasing, creating a huge headache for police. With no sign of the refugees going back soon, the government decided to shift some of them to the recently emerged island, which is around 30 km from the mainland.
At present, houses for around 1 lakh people are nearing completion, and the Bangladesh government wants to start the process of relocating. But refugees, and aid agencies working for them, are refusing to shift to the island. Refugees cite the danger of flooding in island for their refusal. They also don’t want to shift to an isolated island from crowded mainland.
But Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has alleged that aid agency workers are instigating the refugees to refuse to relocate. He says that the agencies working in Cox’s Bazar stay in five-star hotels, and they don’t want to move to another place. He added that government is identifying international NGOs who are politicising the Rohingya issue.
He said that Bangladesh will relocate the refugees even if the UN agencies don’t support the move. Rohingyas have refused to go back to Myanmar unless their demands are not met, and so far, Myanmar has accepted only one demand, providing safety, security and mobility. Demands such as granting citizenship to Rohingya, punishment for people involved in the Rohingya massacre, recognizing Rohingya as an ethnic group, and allowing them to return to their own homes have not been met.
The minister said that UN has to agree to the relocation plan or it can take the refugees with them, adding that already some of these people are getting involved in criminal activities. He said that already the number of refugees is double the number of local citizens in the area. That is why the government can force their relocation, he added.
Momen said that Bangladesh is willing to send the Rohingyas to anywhere, to anyone who wants to take them. Saying that they can’t afford to keep the refugees forever, he added that even the Bhasan Char is a temporary arrangement.
He said that UN is not helping Bangladesh much in this regard. “Why don’t these UN aid agencies work in Myanmar? They should go to Myanmar, especially to Rakhine state, to create conditions that could help these refugees to go back to their country. The UN is not doing the job that we expect them to do”, The foreign minister said.
When asked if Bangladesh will expel the UN agencies if they don’t support the relocation plan, he said that they will do that if necessary. He also asserted that Bangladesh has the capability to relocate 1 lakh refugees to Bhasan Char without the support of the UN.
He also refuted the allegations that the island is unsafe, saying that they have built embankments and beautiful houses there. “If we tell Bangladeshi people to go there, they would definitely go there”, he added.