DHAKA: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recognized Bhasan Char as a potential location for the Rohingya seeking shelter in Bangladesh despite recent protests by some of the refugees living in the remote, cyclone-prone island.
Since December, Bangladeshi authorities have shifted 18,000 out of a planned 100,000 people to the island to take pressure off Cox’s Bazar, a city in Bangladesh that already hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
When the relocation started, the UNHCR voiced concerns as to whether it was safe, as the island, 68 kilometers from the mainland, is vulnerable to severe weather and flooding.
Earlier this week, the assistant high commissioners of the refugee agency visited the island and on Wednesday evening said it “recognizes the potential that Bhasan Char could provide as an alternative temporary location for some Rohingya refugees while in Bangladesh.”
“It was clear that the 18,000 Rohingya refugees currently on the island have protection and assistance needs. That is, access to meaningful livelihood opportunities, skills development, education, health and access to cash to facilitate their daily lives,” the UNHCR said in a statement, adding that it proposes further discussions with the Bangladeshi government for the agency’s operational engagement on the island.
The statement came as some of the Rohingya on Monday protested against living conditions, a lack of access to education and no source of livelihood on the island.
As the UN expressed concerns over reports that some of the protesters were injured and said that “livelihoods and skills training opportunities will provide refugees with a sense of purpose and autonomy while they are in Bangladesh,” Bangladeshi authorities say they have been doing their best and wait for the UN’s engagement on the island.
“There are 120 ponds on the island where the Rohingya will do fish farming. Already five of these ponds are being prepared by them. Some women received training in sewing, and they are producing handicrafts for a Dhaka-based fashion house,” Moazzam Hossain, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, who is in charge of the Bhasan Char camp, told Arab News on Thursday.
“We are also providing some informal education to the Rohingya children. But to do more, we need the UN’s involvement as soon as possible,” he said. “Our first priority is to provide food for the refugees. Once that is done properly, we can gradually focus on other areas.”
As the UNHCR also said it was considering “alternative solutions for Rohingya refugees, including resettlement to third countries for the most vulnerable with specific protection needs,” Bangladeshi experts argue the option is not sustainable.
Asif Munier, rights activist and migration expert, said resettlement, even if it takes place, “would only be possible in a couple of years.”
Professor Amena Mohsin from the international relations department of Dhaka University told Arab News that a few of the Rohingya may be resettled, but “it cannot be a sustainable solution.”
“The world cannot offer impunity to the Myanmar government for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya,” Mohsin said.
So far, only around 1,000 Rohingyas with valid refugee documents were resettled by the UNHCR to the US, the UK, Canada, Sweden and Australia. The resettlement, facilitated by Bangladesh and the UNHCR, took place in 2010.
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