UN shares positive observation on Bhasan Char

Bangladesh will demand 10 percent of the funds that the humanitarian agencies raise in the name of Bangladesh and Rohingyas if they do not provide services to 100,000 Rohingyas to be shifted to Bhasan Char gradually, says Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.

"Yes, they'll have to pay because the funds are coming for Rohingyas. We'll demand 10 percent of the fund if they don't want to provide services to Rohingyas in Bhasan Char," he told Dhaka Courier in an interview at his residence recently.

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar district and the government has a plan to shift 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char gradually which has already started.

The Foreign Minister said it should not be the headache of the humanitarian agencies where Rohingyas are living.

"It's not a matter whether Rohingyas are living in Kutupalong, Cox's Bazar, Barishal or in Bhasan Char. That shouldn't be their headache. Their headache should be providing services to Rohingyas. They're obligated to give them services wherever they stay," Dr Momen said.

If the humanitarian agencies do not provide services to Rohingyas, Member States will not give funds which will put them in hardship, he said.

The Foreign Minister said they do not know how the UNHCR and other agencies spend the money though they raise funds in the name of Rohingyas and host communities.

Responding to a question on the technical team's observation on Bhasan Char, the Foreign Minister said, "They've a very good and positive observation. Concisely, they've given a positive observation."

He said they will hand over a 10-page report based on their observations and they have already submitted a two-page synopsis.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhasan Char in March to have a firsthand view of the housing facility for 100,000 Rohingyas.

In their two-page synopsis, the team pointed out three points - education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system.

Dr Momen said Bangladesh has no problem in providing education to Rohingyas but it has to be in Myanmar language.

"Rohingyas will have to go back to Myanmar. So, education in Myanmar curriculum will help Rohingyas integrate in their society easily once they return home," he said.

About further increasing the heights of the embankments, Dr Momen said they will certainly do it for their own needs.

On communications, the Foreign Minister said they can go to Bhasan Char through Sandwip as it will take 30 minutes if they follow that route. "There'll be no problem regarding communications with Bhasan Char."

He said Bhasan Char is one of the 75 islands in Bangladesh and it is 10 times bigger than St Martin's Island.

Responding to a question on diplomats' visit, Dr Momen said they expressed satisfaction seeing the arrangementsthere with solid structures. "They've appreciated the arrangement very much. They liked it."

"I had a discussion with two diplomats. They've liked Bhasan Char," said the Foreign Minister.

On April 3, the Rohingyas, now living in Bhasan Char, interacted with the foreign diplomats and expressed their willingness to return to their homeland in Myanmar.

They conveyed their "high satisfaction" over the existing facilities in Bhasan Char, which they considered safe, secure crime-free compared to the congested camps in Cox's Bazar.

The Rohingyas profusely thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the government of Bangladesh for the exemplary humanitarian support that have been extended to the Rohingyas since the mass exodus.

"I want my children to grow with their own national identity in their own country," a Rohingya representative was quoted as conveying to the diplomats who visited Bhasan Char.

Some Rohingyas underscored the need for expanding learning facilities for children and providing them withopportunities for farming and fishing which would help keep them active.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised the day-long trip to Bhasan Char for the heads of missions of 10 embassies/delegation -- Turkey, EU, the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

The Rohingya relocation to Bhasan Char, which started on December 4 last year, is in alignment with theBangladesh government's overall efforts towards repatriation.

No disagreement over Bhasan Char

State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam has said Bhasan Char is now a settled issue and hoped that international agencies will get engaged taking responsibility of Rohingyas in Bhasan Char, the way they are doing in Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps.

"Bhasan Char isn't an issue now. It's resolved," he said, mentioning that the UN team and diplomats who have visited the Bhasan Char did not raise any "disagreement" but there are a few recommendations.

As of now, the government of Bangladesh has relocated over 18,500 Rohingya to Bhasan Char in several phases out of a planned relocation of 100,000 Rohingyas.

"We're managing their basic humanitarian needs from our own exchequer -- given that the UN is yet to commence their operation at the island," said the State Minister while addressing a webinar as the chief guest.

Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the webinar on "The Rohingya Crisis: Response of the International Community and the Repatriation Process".

He said though Bangladesh is happy over the role of some friendly countries regarding the Rohingya issue but cannot express satisfaction over the position of other friendly countries.

"UN is talking about it repeatedly but nothing effective is happening," Shahriar said, adding that some countries are not spending much time repatriating Rohingyas.

Bangladesh also spent over USD 350 million from its own budget to develop Bhasan Char with better infrastructures and amenities to relocate a portion of Rohingyas from the over-congested and disaster-prone camps in Cox's Bazar.

The State Minister said the UN and other countries are yet to do what they were supposed to do towards Rohingya repatriation.

Repatriation Remains Priority

"We fervently call upon the international community to engage deeply with Myanmar in a meaningful way to ensure the creation of a conducive environment in Rakhine and find a lasting solution for the unfortunate community," he said.

Shahriar said key nations in the region and ASEAN countries with diverse direct leverage over Myanmar have added responsibility in building confidence among the Rohingya and ensure peace and stability of the region.

That will be the real service and most important service for an ethnic minority, the Rohingya - seriously facing the threat of extinction due to 'ethnic cleansing', as the UN has termed, he said.

"Only through our concerted efforts, sustained repatriation can become a reality," said the State Minister.

Shahriar said while they are committed to continuing their efforts, albeit, they will have to be reminded of the ongoing political situation of Myanmar.

He said the international community should make a concerted effort to stabilise the situation in Myanmar and effectively prevent any further mass displacement or cross-border exodus.

"The repatriation of all displaced people to Myanmar remains a compelling priority for Bangladesh. The displaced Rohingyas are also desperate to return home with safety and dignity at the earliest possible time," he said.

The outcomes and experiences of bilateral diplomatic efforts of working with Myanmar on the Rohingya issue clearly suggest that Bangladesh alone cannot solve the crisis, said the State Minister.

Given the gravity of the crisis of over a million Rohingya and the mindset of the Myanmar authorities, he said the international community must not shy away from their responsibility to resolve the crisis and relieve Bangladesh from the burden that Myanmar has imposed upon it.

BIISS Director General Major General Md Emdad Ul Bari chaired the webinar and delivered the welcome remarks.

At the webinar, five papers were presented. Ambassador M. Humayun Kabir, President, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute delivered a presentation titled "The West and the Rohingya Crisis".

Another presentation titled "ASEAN, Myanmar and the Rohingya Crisis" was made by Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain, Senior Fellow, South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance, North South University.

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, presented a paper on "The Role of India and China in the Rohingya Repatriation Process".

A paper titled "Multilateral Organisations and the Rohingya Crisis: The UN, EU and OIC" was presented by Md. Delwar Hossain, Director General, Myanmar Wing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Besides, Abu Salah Md. Yosuf, Senior Research Fellow, BIISS, presented a paper titled "The Dilemmas of the US Sanctions against Myanmar".

Emdad Ul Bari noted that the major exigency for Bangladesh now is the sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas.

Since Bangladesh follows a policy of peaceful settlement of disputes with the neighbouring countries, therefore, Bangladesh needs to develop an effective negotiation framework where the country can engage all the stakeholders to ensure the return of the Rohingyas in their own land, he said.

Senior officials from different ministries, ambassadors and high commissioners, senior civil and military officials, media, academia, think tanks, business personalities, students and teachers from different universities participated in the open discussion session.

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