Foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Friday said the United Nations (UN) turned up with a “very positive” note in an initial report on Rohingyas relocation at Bashanchar island.
“Initially, they gave us a 2-page initial assessment report (regarding the Bhashan Char), and their report is very positive,” he told BSS adding that his office now awaited a detailed UN report on the relocated Rohingyas at the offshore island.
A UN technical team recently visited the island and reviewed the facilities for Rohingyas as several rights groups until recently were apprehensive of the situation of these Burmese ethnic minority people driven out by Myanmar military four years ago.
Momen said the UN team expressed their satisfaction regarding the facilities for the Rohingyas in Island, binning the speculations that many Rohingyas were forced to go there beyond their will.
He said the foreign ministry was expecting to receive a detailed assessment report by this week though it could take a little longer in view of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
Bangladesh chapter assistant representative of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Fumiko Kashiwa led the 18-member team that visited Bhashanchar from March 17 to 20 and interacted with the relocated Rohingyas on their own.
The government has already relocated some 13,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, an island 37 miles off the mainland under the administrative jurisdiction of Hatiya.
Bhasan Char by now was turned into a model town with all civic amenities to accommodate one lakh of Rohingyas.
A total of 120 brick-built cluster villages and 120 cyclone shelters, facilities for education, hospital, farming and fishing, playground were developed there while presence of law enforcement agencies ensured security of the island residents.
The UN and other international aid agencies earlier feared that residents of Bhashan Char could be exposed to risks of tidal surges and cyclones.
Officials familiar with the development of infrastructures said flood protection embankments around the project area was now being heightened from nine feet to 19 feet while the houses are built four feet above the ground.
Momen added that works to heighten the embankment was underway to secure further the island from tidal surge.
“They (UN and aid agencies) had a misconception that Bhashan Char is a small island which could be washed away in tidal surges . . . now they know is a 40 sq km island, which is 10 times bigger than our St. Martin’s island,” the minister said.
Momen said, the UN team, however, in their initial report enquired about the education of Rohingya children and communication between the Bhashan Char and the mainland.
The minister said, Bangladesh has no issue over providing education to Rohingya children but it must be under Myanmar’s language and curriculum so that they could utilize it upon their return to their homeland in Rakhine.
The government has been urging the UN and other international aid agencies to begin their operations in Bhasan Char, where separate buildings for them were erected.
But the UN maintained that their activities in the island would depend upon the physical inspection.
“The UN is mandated to provide the humanitarian assistance to the displaced people . . . where the Riohingyas are sheltering it is secondary issue,” Momen said.
He said UNHCR was getting fund for Rohingyas as Bangladesh waged a global campaign for humanitarian assistance for these forcibly displaced people.
“So, they (UNHCR and other such agencies) are supposed to provide service wherever the Rohingyas are residing,” he added.
Momen said one out of 11 lakh or one tenth of Rohigyas were being relocated to Bhashan Char under the government plan.
The minister said in case of failure of the UNHCR or other foreign donors in extending their service to them Bangladesh may demand 10 percent of the total humanitarian aid the aid agencies were receiving to look after these people.
After relocation of the first batch of Rohingyas in December last year, some 44 NGOs volunteered to go the island to offer humanitarian assistance to the refugees.
There were concerns over how funds needed for 100,000 Rohingyas would be managed after their relocation.
During the visit, the UN team also met with the local authorities and security agencies working on the island, as well as some of the NGOs and traders operating there.
Three weeks after the UN visit, the foreign ministry also facilitated visit of nine foreign envoys to visit Bhashan Char. They were ambassadors or senior diplomats of Australia, Canada, Turkey, the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
several of these envoys expressed their satisfaction to the media over the facilities in the Bhashan char.
Bangladesh Navy has implemented the Ashryan-3 at Bhashan Char at the cost of Tk 3100 crore for accommodating 100,000 Rohingyas.
Some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a ruthless military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017 and took shelter in Teknaf and Ukhia.