The UN and Bangladesh’s government have agreed to collaborate in order to assist Rohingya refugees on an island in the Bay of Bengal, where thousands have been transferred from overcrowded camps near Myanmar’s border.
The government has already relocated around 19,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char Island, and the UN stated that one of the main reasons for signing the deal was to begin serving that community.
Bangladesh wants to resettle 100,000 Rohingya Muslims from overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar region to the island in stages.
After the UN and humanitarian organisations criticised the relocation, saying the 30-year-old island, which is regularly swamped by monsoon rains, was unfit for human settlement, the agreement came as a paradigm shift.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, on the other hand, has spent more than $112 million on development, including the construction of sea walls, clinics, schools, and mosques, and claims the area is no longer vulnerable.
Following the agreement reached on Saturday, authorities announced that additional 81,000 migrants would be moved to the island over the following three months.
In March, a UN team visited the island, which prompted the international body to reconsider its decision.
The UN high commissioner for refugees said in a statement that the deal was another demonstration of Bangladesh’s generosity and support for the Rohingya community until they can return to Myanmar securely and sustainably.
The agreement permits the government and the UN to work closely on services and activities that benefit the island’s population. Prior to the signing of the agreement, the UN stated it conducted talks with Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar as well as those already living on Bhasan Char Island.
The UNHCR’s envoy, Johannes Van der Klaauw, said the organisation has visited the island and believes Bangladesh’s government has built “substantial infrastructure” to mitigate environmental risks. According to him, the deal also allows migrants to travel between the island and the major camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Refugees will also be able to make a living by working odd jobs that will be available after help organisations establish themselves on the island. Van van Klaauw further stated that the migration to Bhasan Char would be voluntary and informed.
However, the majority of Rohingya refugees have stated that they do not want to relocate.
Many refugees, according to a woman who went to the island with her family earlier this year, escaped on boats back to the camp because life on the island is difficult for them.
Bangladesh has taken in 1.1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including over 700,000 who fled a violent military assault on the Muslim-majority ethnic community in August 2017 in response to a rebel offensive. Hasina claims that her government will not compel them to return.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, leaving them stateless and subjected to other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
In 2018, an UN-sponsored study suggested that Myanmar’s top military commanders be charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in connection with the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.