Bangladesh, after waiting for over three years to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to their homes in Myanmar, on Friday relocated more than 1,600 of this Muslim-minority group to a Taka 23 million settlement on Bhashanchar Island in the Bay of Bengal brushing aside concerns of the United Nations.
The group started its journey from Southeastern Cox’s Bazar to Bhshanchar via Chottogram business district by buses and later on Navy vessels to the Island on Friday under security.
The refugees chose to resettle on the Island spontaneously for a better living. A group of Rohingyas earlier toured the settlement and wished to move to the scenic Bhashanchar Island.
“We are going there for a better life and education for our children,” one of the refugees told the private Somoy TV which showed live the entire process.
The Dhaka government, constructed 120 cluster villages on 13,000 acres of the island to accommodate more than 100,000 people out of 1.1 million Rohingyas camped in different parts of southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, a popular tourist destination.
The government announced the plan to relocate the first batch of Rohingyas in November and stuck to its decision despite objections and conditions laid down by the UN and the EU.
Some 1.1 million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar due widespread persecution on the Muslim-minority group.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told this correspondent. “” I have been discussing with them (UN and others) about relocation for quite some time.”
“The UN and the international community will be consulted in due course so that they can be involved in this undertaking,” he added from his home where he is being treated for COVID-19.
Foreign Ministry, as well as local officials, said the Rohingyas made the choice to relocate at Bhashanchar and using force “is out of the question.”
The United Nations said it has “not been involved in preparations for this movement or the identification of the refugees and has limited information on the overall relocation exercise.”
In a statement, the world body stressed on ensuring a ‘free and informed decision’ about relocating to Bhasanchar Island..
Human Rights Watch also urged the government to stop relocating the Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char, in a separate statement.
TV channels showed happy Rohingyas having a feast before their departure from Cox’s Bazar and happily boarding Navy vessels.
“The government has indicated that movements to the island will be voluntary, and the United Nations calls on the Government to respect this important commitment,” it said.
The United Nations has also emphasised that refugees who choose to move to Bhasan Char should have basic rights and services on the island, which would include effective freedom of movement to and from the mainland, as well as access to education, health care, and livelihood opportunities.
“This would help to lay the foundations for a productive and secure community on Bhasan Char.”
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation pact on November 23, 2017 and another document on “Physical Arrangement” in 2018, but so far not a single Rohingyas has returned to their home.
The Rohingyas have been blamed for destroying Cox’s Bazar’s ecosystem and for crimes like drug peddling and prostitution.