Dhaka Courier

Bhasan Char: Better ready than sorry

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Onsite visit and technical assessment to be done soon

The government of Bangladesh has been working  to develop Bhasan Char, an estuary island that appeared in the Bay of Bengal just over a decade ago, to accommodate some 1,00,000 Rohingyas there initially. It has been keen to stress that any such relocation would be voluntary. The government looks optimistic about implementing its plan to relocate Rohingyas to Bhasan Char subject to completion of further technical assessment to be done by an expert team.

The UN’s first technical assessment mission was scheduled to be done from November 17 to November 19. However, the UN and the government of Bangladesh have agreed to “postpone” the visit to make sure that the right experts and all the necessary logistical arrangements are in place.

“We’re awaiting confirmation of an alternative date and are also submitting terms of reference to the government for these onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Steven Corliss told Dhaka Courier.

Responding to another question, he said the exact composition of the teams will be defined by the UN objectives and the government’s nod for the visits.

Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque said the technical team is expected to visit the Bhasan Char this month. “They want to ensure some certain issues, and the process will begin after that.”

In reply to a question, the Foreign Secretary said the UN has long been working with the government on the issue, and this is not correct to say the UN is opposing the Bhasan Char relocation plan.

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered Cox’s Bazar since August 25, 2017 amid a military crackdown on the predominantly Muslim minority state Rakhine.

Bhasan Char relocation plan is a “temporary arrangement” as the existing Rohingya camps are overcrowded with the risk of landslides and subsequent deaths.

“We won’t force anybody to go there. Any relocation will be in voluntary nature. We want to relocate them there for their betterment and avoid risk or reduce risk,” said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen making it clear that the government has not postponed Rohingya relocation plan to Bhasan Char.

UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T Clements, during her recent visit here, discussed the Bhasan Char issue as the plan is advanced. While coming back from Cox’s Bazar, Clements and her colleagues flew over the island and had a “very distant glimpse” of some of the preparations.

Accountability and Justice

Bangladesh is currently following a two-pronged approach over the Rohingya issue – humanitarian aspect and accountability and justice front.

Foreign Secretary Haque said Bangladesh gave shelter to over 1.1 million Rohingyas on humanitarian ground while another aspect is accountability and justice.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made it clear at the UNGA that the root cause of the Rohingya crisis needs to be addressed as Rohingyas returned to Bangladesh on various occasions in the past decades despite their repatriation, he said.

The Foreign Secretary said Rohingyas returned to Bangladesh again from their place of origin in Rakhine State possibly for “accountability and justice” issues, including citizenship that remain unaddressed.

Responding to a question, Haque said Rohingya repatriation; and accountability and justice issues are deeply interlinked. “Accountability is crucial for sustainable Rohingya repatriation.”

Asked whether the previous repatriations were a “premature” one, the Foreign Secretary parried the question. Haque said Bangladesh’s policy on Rohingya issue is a mixed of bilateral and multilateral one, and Myanmar knows that Bangladesh is working on both fronts.

The UN Refugee Agency thinks it is extremely difficult to set a timeline when the conducive environment for the return of Rohingyas will be created. The UNHCR called on the international community to continue its support to Bangladesh and the humanitarian response while, in parallel, working with the Myanmar government to support Myanmar to create the conditions conducive to sustainable return.

Dhaka exploring all avenues for repatriation

Bangladesh says it keeps exploring all available avenues through bilateral and international mechanisms to send back Rohingyas safely to their place of origin in Rakhine State with an active trilateral effort with China and Myanmar in place.

“We want to work in all areas with the same pace,” said Secretary (Asia and Pacific) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Masud Bin Momen. He said it will be a very difficult proposition if the Rohingya issue is left on bilateral front only considering the past experiences.

Secretary Momen said Bangladesh, China and Myanmar are moving ahead trilaterally as China is working as a sort of guarantor to send back Rohingyas through bilateral mechanisms. Responding to a question, he said the issue of “accountability and justice” is a matter of high moral ground as genocidal acts took place; and the international community has a responsibility to address the issue.

On November 14, pre-trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court has authorised the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation for the alleged crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction committed against the Rohingya people from Myanmar.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her investigation will seek to uncover the truth. “My office will now focus on ensuring the success of its independent and impartial investigation.”

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is among several top Myanmar officials named in a case filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya Muslims and it shows the Nobel Laureate, for the first time, has been legally targeted over the crisis.

On November 11, Gambia filed a case at the United Nations’ highest court, accusing Myanmar of “genocide” in its campaign against its Rohingya Muslim minority. Gambia, which filed the case on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to urgently order measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately.”

Secretary Momen said they see this development on legal front as “confidence building measures” as these mechanisms will help build confidence among Rohingyas.

“If some sort of justice is not ensured, these traumatized people will not get back confidence and courage to go back (to their place of origin in Rakhine),” he said.

Secretary Momen said so far they are not seeing any visible results on what Myanmar claimed to be done.

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered Cox’s Bazar since August 25, 2017 amid military crackdown on Rohingyas in Rakhine State.

Not a single Rohingya was repatriated over the last two years due to Myanmar’s “failure” to build confidence among Rohingyas and lack of conducive environment in Rakhine State. Bangladesh has so far handed over names of over 1 lakh Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities for verification and subsequently expediting their repatriation efforts but Myanmar is yet to take back its nationals from Bangladesh.

  • Bhasan Char: Better ready than sorry
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 22
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • DhakaCourier

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