Bhasan Char: UN positive about refugee relocation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 17, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:29 AM, April 17, 2021

Bhasan Char: UN positive about refugee relocation

The UN has made positive observations on Bhasan Char, but suggested expanding protection, education and livelihood options at the project meant to shelter 100,000 Rohingyas.

It has submitted a report to the foreign affairs ministry this week, also recommending quick completion of the embankment around the housing facility and having an emergency management plan in the case of severe weather events.

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The 18-member UN delegation led by Fumiko Kashiwa, assistant representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited the island in Noakhali's Hatiya where some 14,000 Rohingyas were relocated from Cox's Bazar since December last year.

"Rohingya refugees were generally positive about their experiences so far and appreciated the quality of the shelters and other facilities, the overall security situation, as well as the space available to them," Charlie Goodlake, a UNHCR spokesperson in Dhaka, told The Daily Star yesterday in response to an email.

He said while currently limited in scale and scope, a number of Rohingya refugees were found to be engaged in livelihood, skills training, and informal education activities on the island.

The UNHCR said the UN team recognises the extensive investments made by Bangladesh, but at the same time it is critical that the ongoing extension of the embankment is completed at the soonest to reduce the risk of storm surges and flooding.

"To further mitigate risks, the UN believes it would be critical to also put in place an emergency management plan in the case of severe weather events, including the pre-positioning of essential supplies and goods on the island."

The UN team recommended that any future relocations are undertaken in a gradual and phased manner to help ensure that the governance structure, facilities and services available on the island are commensurate to the needs of Rohingya refugees living there.

It also has proposed further discussions with the government regarding its future operational engagement on Bhasan Char. 

The UN observations come as a significant development, especially as the government has been seeking UN funding for Bhasan Char project, which Bangladesh Navy implemented at the cost of Tk 3,100 crore after some 750,000 Rohingyas had fled a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2017.

The project has 120 brick-built cluster villages and 120 cyclone shelters, flood protection embankments, facilities for education, farming and fishing, hospitals and playgrounds. Separate buildings for the aid agencies were also constructed there.

The UN had wanted to send an independent technical team to the island to assess the protection measures in the project but that did not happen.

Meanwhile, some 45 NGOs are now providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees on Bhasan Char from their own fund and there were concerns over future funding.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said overall, the UN is positive about Bhasan Char and has made some recommendations, but has not said anything about the funding.

In an interview with UNB, he said the government will demand 10 percent of the fund for Rohingyas from international aid agencies if they do not want to provide assistance to the Rohingyas on Bhasan Char.

"It is not a matter whether the Rohingyas are living in Kutupalong, Cox's Bazar, Barishal or Bhasan Char. That should not be their headache. Their headache should be providing services to the Rohingyas. They are obligated to provide services wherever they stay."

Saiful Islam Chowdhury, coordinator for NGO Alliance for Bhasan Char, said education and livelihood programmes have already begun on Bhasan Char and UN engagement will create momentum to these activities. Major aid agencies will also then start their activities, he added.


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