Bangladesh relocating Rohingyas to a remote island

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Bangladesh authorities are to push ahead with a controversial plan to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees who arrived from Myanmar to a remote island, according to a government website.

The government has set up a committee comprising state officials in the coastal districts, ordering authorities to help identify and relocate undocumented Myanmar nationals to Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal.

“The committee will assist transferring both registered and unregistered refugees from Myanmar to Thengar Char near Hatiya island in Noakhali district,” according to an order issued by the Cabinet Division and posted on the website.

official at the Bangladesh municipality under which Thengar Char comes said the island was isolated and gets deluged at high tide, but the government could build embankments to make it liveable. He declined to be named

Hatiya Island is situated on the estuary of the River Meghna and is nine hours’ journey from the camps where the Rohingya have taken shelter.

Some 232,000 Rohingya Muslims — both registered and unregistered — were already living in Bangladesh before over 69,000 stateless Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine began entering the country last October.

Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal

Most of those who fled to Bangladesh live in squalid conditions in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, which borders Rakhine state and is home to the country’s biggest tourist resort.

Bangladesh has also asked its officials in the border districts to identify the Myanmar nationals who “illegally infiltrated” the country.

“It has to be assured by taking preventive measures that they (refugees) cannot spread out and mix with the locals,” read the order which was dated January 26.

“The identified refugees should be arrested or pushed back to the camps if they try to go out beyond the assigned boundary.”

The Rohingya refugees mostly live in squalid conditions in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh first mooted the idea of relocating them in 2015 despite allegations that the island was still not ready for human habitation.

The idea sparked an outcry from Rohingya community leaders while a UN agency said a forced relocation would be “very complex and controversial.”

Bangladesh is determined to relocate Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar to a Bay of Bengal island that critics say is unliveable, a Bangladeshi minister said, adding that the move is temporary and Myanmar will ultimately have to take them back.

Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister, said the refugees would be moved gradually after Thengar Char was developed with “shelters and other facilities”. There was, however, no timeframe on when the move would start

Bangladesh last month revived a much-criticized 2015 plan to move new and old refugees from Myanmar to the island of Thengar Char – which floods at high tide – surprising aid groups who were not consulted and consider the relocation impracticable.

Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister, said the refugees would be moved gradually after Thengar Char was developed with “shelters and other facilities”. There was, however, no timeframe on when the move would start, he said.

“After considering all aspects, we have taken a firm decision to shift them to the island. Still, this is a very early stage of our decision,” minister told.

“We also have plans to provide them poultry or livestock for their livelihood. But all these arrangements are temporary. Myanmar will have to take them back.”

The plight of the stateless Rohingya, of whom there are some 1.1 million living in apartheid-like conditions Rakhine, has long been a source of friction between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Many in mostly Buddhist Myanmar refer to them as “Bengalis” – denoting that they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – and they are denied citizenship despite some tracing their lineage in the country back for generations.

Officials in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya are also not accepted, refer to “Muslim nationals of Myanmar”.

 

DELUGED AT HIGH TIDE

A government official at the Bangladesh municipality under which Thengar Char comes said the island was isolated and gets deluged at high tide, but the government could build embankments to make it liveable. He declined to be named.

Alam said Bangladesh would also develop existing camps around Cox’s Bazar, near the border, and expects financial support from outside.

“They are living in inhumane conditions,” he said.

About 30,000 people live in official camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while tens of thousands more, including the new arrivals, are settled in makeshift settlements built around the camps and in the Cox’s Bazar area.

on citizenship, Aye Aye Soe said the administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi had attempted to start a verification process in April, but had faced resistance from local community leaders who insist on being recognised as “Rohingya”, a term Myanmar rejects

Experts estimate there are between 200,000 and 500,000 undocumented Rohingya in Bangladesh.

Dhaka said in a Jan. 26 notice that further mixing of the refugees with Bangladeshi citizens could lead to “law and order issues” and the spread of communicable diseases.

Alam said Bangladesh was trying to improve the living conditions of the refugees, but that it was important for Myanmar to take them back soon because Cox’s Bazar’s “social condition was deteriorating from the influx”.

“Taking the Rohingya back and giving them citizenship is the only solution to the crisis,” Alam said. “They are getting involved in drugs and other unlawful activities. If we could have confined them in the camp, it would not have happened.”

 

REPATRIATION TALKS

Myanmar has said it has agreed to talk about repatriation, but only for those who have crossed the border since Oct. 9.

“The people that Bangladesh is saying are on their side, we have to verify that they are from Myanmar. We can’t just accept on face value if they say they are from Myanmar,” Aye Aye Soe, deputy director of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told.

“If they are found to be from Myanmar, we will take them back and of course we will do that in due time,” she said, adding that the situation in northern Rakhine had to return to “normalcy” before any repatriation could begin.

On citizenship, Aye Aye Soe said the administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi had attempted to start a verification process in April, but had faced resistance from local community leaders who insist on being recognised as “Rohingya”, a term Myanmar rejects.

“We are going to push this process forward again,” she said.

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