The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, cautioned the Bangladesh government to slow down its relocation of Rohingya people to the remote island of Bhasan Char until further safety measures are fully in place.
“A UNHCR team visited Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal on March 17-20 to inspect the infrastructure for the thousands of Rohingya who have moved there,” said Charlie Goodlake, a spokesman for the UN agency in Dhaka, recognising that the government had made “extensive investments” in setting up infrastructure and safeguards on the island for the refugees.
“The UN team believes it is critical that the ongoing extension of the embankment is completed as early as possible and to full specification which, when complete, would reduce the risk of storm surges and flooding on the island,” Goodlake told BenarNews.
In addition, it was also essential to put in place an emergency management plan for severe weather events, including building up stocks of essential supplies and goods on the island, UNHCR said.
“The UN team recommends to the government that any future relocations are undertaken in a gradual and phased manner, which would help to ensure that the governance structure, facilities and services available on Bhasan Char are commensurate to the needs of Rohingya refugees living there,” Goodlake said.
Since December, the government has moved a total of 18,304 Rohingya from crowded camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district. The camps host around 1 million refugees who fled persecution in Rakhine state, next-door in Myanmar.
The government had said it spent about US$280 million to construct housing, a large embankment to protect the island’s population from flooding, and other infrastructure in a bid to relieve pressure on the crowded mainland camps.
Meanwhile, the country’s foreign minister said, international agencies must help foot the cost of housing what could eventually be 100,000 refugees on Bhasan Char.
So far, Bangladesh’s government has covered that cost.
Bangladesh’s government wants international funds raised through the UN Joint Response Plan to be used for the Rohingya on Bhasan Char as well, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said on Friday.
If funds are focused only on humanitarian efforts in Cox’s Bazar, the government will demand a share of the funds for facilities on the island, he said.
“If the humanitarian agencies do not support the Rohingya in Bhasan Char, we will demand 10 percent of those funds,” Momen told BenarNews, even as he acknowledged that he did not know how the UNHCR spends the funds it collects for the Rohingya and their host communities.
He said UN agencies were obligated to provide services for the Rohingya regardless of where the refugees live. And UN member-states, he said, would not provide funds if humanitarian agencies did not provide services to Rohingya in Bhasan Char as well.
In response, Goodlake, the UNHCR’s Dhaka spokesman, said that if the UN were to “operationally engage” in the island, “any related funding requirements for Bhasan Char would need to be agreed in close consultation with relevant stakeholders, notably with the donor community and the government.”
The UN team that visited the island last month said it “clearly” recognized the prevailing humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya refugees already relocated to Bhasan Char, he said.
“The UN has therefore proposed further discussions with the government regarding its future operational engagement on Bhasan Char, including on the policies that govern the life and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees on the island,” Goodlake said. (Source: RFA)