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4 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Relocation to Bhashan Char ‘uncertain’ as UN agencies yet to agree to Dhaka’s plan

Ensure safe Rohingya return

UN chief urges Myanmar
AFP, Bangkok
Ensure safe Rohingya return

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday urged Myanmar to ensure the ‘safe’ return of Rohingyas driven out by army operations, a plea made in front of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years since her country cracked down on the Muslim minority. Speaking at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok—with Myanmar’s de facto head Suu Kyi in the room—Antonio Guterres said he remains “deeply concerned” about the plight of the Rohingya. Violence in Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, in what UN investigators say amounted to genocide. Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens.

The country says it welcomes back those who agree to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship, and if they agree to live under tight guard after their villages were incinerated. Guterres said Myanmar is responsible to “ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees”. Suu Kyi sat in the room expressionless as Guterres spoke.

Only a few hundred Rohingya have returned to Myanmar so far, with many fearing further persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.

The secretary-general also called on Myanmar “to ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to areas of return”.

Despite repeated entreaties by the UN and endless criticism by rights groups and world leaders, Myanmar has refused to bend in its approach to the Rohingya.

Much of Rakhine remains largely closed to aid workers and journalists, who can only visit on tightly controlled, military-chaperoned trips.

It has launched an extensive and increasingly bloody campaign against Rakhine Buddhists, who are also fighting the central

state for greater autonomy. Suu Kyi has come under fire for failing to use her moral force to defend Rohingya after the 2017 unrest.

The treatment of the minority has shredded her image as an upholder of human rights in the eyes of the Western world.

Myanmar’s army has come under fire for covering up the crackdown, which it blamed on Rohingya “terrorists”.

A leaked ASEAN report earlier this year said the repatriation effort could take a further two years.

Suu Kyi has faced pressure over her country’s treatment of the Rohingya from fellow ASEAN members Malaysia and Indonesia, which are both Muslim-majority.

Another report from Dhaka adds: The Bangladesh government has said that plans to relocate thousands of Rohingya people living in overcrowded refugee camps to a remote island were “uncertain” after the authorities have got failed to gain support from United Nations (UN) agencies.

Dhaka wanted to begin its long-held plan this month to move 100,000 people to Bhashan Char island, as frustration grows with the presence of the squalid tent settlements in its southeastern border towns.

Bangladesh has said thousands of Rohingya families have volunteered to relocate, with some 3,500 of the Muslim minority due to be moved between mid-November to February during calm seas.

But the plan was in doubt as the UN has not supported the relocation so far, said state minister for disaster management and relief Enamur Rahman yesterday.

“This has become uncertain,” he said of the relocation to the island, which takes around three hours to reach by boat.

“They (UN agencies) still haven’t agreed to the relocation plan.”

Aid agencies including the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme (WFP), which held meetings with the government, told him the island was “isolated” and “flood-prone”.

The agencies set out a list of conditions that had to be met, including a regular shipping service between the islet in the Bay of Bengal and the mainland, Rahman added.

The organisations provide humanitarian aid to the nearly one million Rohingya in the vast camps, including 740,000 who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in August 2017.

UNHCR spokesman Louise Donovan told AFP Sunday his agency offered “to engage constructively” with Bangladesh but said the relocation had to be “voluntary”.

“To evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhashan Char, the UN has also emphasised that it will be essential to undertake independent and thorough technical assessments before relocations take place,” Donovan said in an email.

She added that the assessments would look at the risks of natural disasters, adequate water supply and access to basic services — such as health and education — and “their ability to move within Bhashan Char and to and from the mainland”. Dhaka is due to hold another round of talks with the agencies on Wednesday, Rahman said, adding that “we won’t do anything forcefully”.

Global activist group Fortify Rights said last month it interviewed 14 Rohingya at three camps, including some who appeared on lists of refugees allegedly willing to go, and found none had been consulted “and all opposed it”.

Other groups have also expressed misgivings about moving people to the island, which is regularly hit by devastating cyclones.


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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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