Donor nations’ envoys set to visit Rohingya refugees in remote island


A visit by envoys from several countries contributing to the Rohingya refugee effort is scheduled this week to the remote island where Bangladesh has moved thousands of refugees amid concern for their safety.

The government-hosted visit is scheduled for Saturday and comes after trips last month to Bhasan Char Island by a United Nations delegation, and by the Red Cross.

The ambassadors and in-country representatives of Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America said they were among foreign envoys invited by Bangladesh’s government to visit the island off the Bay of Bengal.

“During this first visit to Bhasan Char by some of the heads of mission whose countries are contributing to the Rohingya response, participants will have an opportunity to see some of the facilities and services on the island and may have a chance to meet with relocated Rohingya refugees, authorities, and others living and working there,” the ambassadors said in a joint statement.

“Envoys look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh on its Bhasan Char project, as well as with the UN and other relevant partners following the visit. Further conversations are needed, especially between the Government of Bangladesh and U.N. to discuss the policy and technical issues in detail.”

The UN had been requesting a visit to evaluate the livability of the flood-prone island for more than two years, and humanitarian groups had criticized Bangladesh for moving refugees there without a thorough assessment of the site by international experts.

While the UN’s visit on March 17 to 20 did not include a technical assessment of the island, experts from the world body did look at the facilities and talk to the relocated refugees.

Most of the 1 million Rohingya who fled from neighbouring Myanmar live in 34 refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district that borders Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The refugees include more than 740,000 who escaped a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.

Bangladesh began relocating the Rohingya from crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar on the mainland to Bhasan Char last December. The government has continued to assert that no one is being be forced to move to the island.

Once they visit Bhasan Char, international representatives will be convinced that it is a safe island, said Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University.

“They are being taken to a better place than the camps in Cox’s Bazar. International representatives and foreign ambassadors will see that,” Ahmed told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Bangladesh moved an additional 2,125 Rohingya to Bhasan Char from Cox’s Bazar, with another batch of 2,185 expected Friday, Commodore Rashed Sattar, director of the Bhasan Char project, confirmed to BenarNews.

Bangladesh has relocated close to 16,000 refugees from the mainland camps, Sattar said.

Last week, a devastating fire at a camp in Cox’s Bazar left at least 11 people dead and 45,000 homeless. (Source: RFA)