Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday remarked that the United Nations must support government’s plan to relocate the Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar Island if it wants to continue activities in the country.
Observing that the UN did not put enough pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees, he said, “Dhaka wants UN agencies to support its plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, or they can leave the South Asian country.” He came up with the remarks in an exclusive interview with German-based radio Deutsche Welle (DW). The interview has also been published on its news website. Responding to a query whether the government would expel UN agencies if they do not support relocation plan, the FM said, “We'll do it if necessary.”
Some extracts from the interview is given below.
DW: Most Rohingya refugees do not want to return to Myanmar. Is that why you want to relocate them to the Bhasan Char island?
AKA Momen: I think it is time to relocate them to Bhasan Char. But the island cannot accommodate all of them; we can send only 100,000 refugees there. We don't want to repatriate them forcefully. We had hoped it would be done voluntarily.
The island offers economic activities to the refugees. But the aid agencies working in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp don't want to move to Bhasan Char. In Cox's Bazar, they stay in five-star hotels, so they don't want to go to another place.
We are also identifying international non-government organisations that are politicalising the Rohingya issue.
DW: Does that mean that you would relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char even if the UN agencies don't support the plan?
AKA Momen: Yes, possibly. We have seized many leaflets, CDs and videos that urge Rohingya not to go back to Myanmar if certain demands are not met. Myanmar authorities have agreed to one of these demands: provide safety, security and mobility to the Rohingya people. Demands such as granting citizenship to Rohingya, punishment for people involved in the Rohingya massacre, recognizing Rohingya as an ethnic group, and allowing them to return to their own homes have not been met.
DW: Can Bangladeshi authorities relocate 100,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char without UN support?
AKA Momen: We can do that.
DW: How would the UN react to it?
AKA Momen: The UN has to agree to the plan or it can take the refugees with them. Already some of these people are getting involved in criminal activities.
The number of Rohingya refugees in the area is more than double than the number of local citizens. The local residents are increasingly complaining of criminal activities. We cannot allow that. That is why we could force their relocation.
Bangladesh is not a rich nation. We're the world's most densely populated country. Still we have done a lot for the Rohingya. It's time for others to come forward because it is not just our problem. It's an international issue, and had we not given them protection, they could have faced a genocide.
We are willing to send them anywhere, to anyone who wants to take them. We cannot afford to keep them for years.
More than a million Rohingya Muslims live in refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. The poor South Asian country has struggled to deal with the humanitarian crisis, and living conditions in the refugee camps are dire. UN agencies say they have received only a fraction of the billions of dollars of aid money needed to run their operations in the area.
DW: And if that doesn't happen, would the refugees have to go to the Bhasan Char island?
AKA Momen: It would be a temporary arrangement. We cannot keep them there forever.
DW: Can Bangladesh afford to antagonise the UN?
AKA Momen: The UN is not helping us much. They are not working to create a conducive environment in Mynamar's Rakhine state. Why don't these UN aid agencies work in Myanmar? They should go to Myanmar, especially to Rakhine state, to create conditions that could help these refugees to go back to their country. The UN is not doing the job that we expect them to do.
DW: Would you expel the UN agencies if they don't support your plan?
AKA Momen: We'll do it if necessary.
DW: The island is prone to cyclones. Is it safe for human inhabitation?
AKA Momen: It is safe. We have built embankments and beautiful houses there. If we tell Bangladeshi people to go there, they would definitely go there.
DW: If the refugees move to Bhasan Char, will they be able to move freely or will they be contained on the island?
AKA Momen: I think they will move freely.