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Bangladesh relocates Rohingya refugees to a newly discovered island

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Bangladesh has begun sending its Rohingya refugees to a new site called Bhasan Char as they are being moved out from the overcrowded camps at Cox’s Baza. Bhasan Char is an island formed by sedimentation close to the coast, with char meaning sediment in the Bengali language. The country is planning to shift as many as 1 lakh refugees to the island, located 39 km away from Naokhali on the mainland.
Nearly 8 lakh Rohingyas have been said to flee an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province in 2016. Since then, they have been living in the camps at Cox’s Bazar in extremely unhygienic conditions.
Bangladesh has been drafting out this plan since 2017 and in 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also commented for it to be just a “temporary measure”. The decision in general and a statement issued by one of her ministers attracted global attention and evoked international concern. The minister said that those who will be relocated to the island would not be permitted to leave from there until and unless they are going back to Myanmar.
Why has Bhasan Char been selected as relocation place?
The island, spanning nearly 40 square kilometres, is a little dangerous for permanent settlement as it is vulnerable to going underwater from tides and flooding with much of it wholly submerged during the monsoon. It is located close to the much larger Sandwip and near the mouth of the river Meghna, which flows into the Bay of Bengal, and surfaced only in 2006 on account of the sediment deposited by the river.
In order to implement the relocation plan, the Bangladeshi government has built hospitals, shelters, and masjids there and according to several reports by media, the construction of the concrete accommodations was initiated the month of November in 2017. The concrete accommodation is estimated to cost as much as 23.12 billion takas or $272 million to the government. Ano earlier report by Reuters in 2018, claims that companies from China and Britain have been made responsible to carry out the construction, including the flood embankments and cyclone shelters.
The Bangladeshi newspaper Daily Sun has reported that 1,440 houses at 4 m height from the land have been constructed already. They can accommodate around 100,000 people who can engage in farming and livestock breeding. However, they will not be able to “transact money” because the government of Bangladesh has still not recognised them as refugees officially. It has been referring to them only as “stateless” people. 20 out of the total 120 shelters have been allocated for the construction of mosques, civil administration, learning centres, community clinics, day-care centres, orphanage etc.
Images obtained from Google Earth show rows of red-roofed barrack-like structures on the island and a helipad as well.
What are the differences between the government of Myanmar and the Rohingyas?
Myanmar does not officially recognise the Rohingya community as an indigenous group. It refers to them only as Bengalis or stateless people and has not yet reacted to the relocation plan to Bhasan Char.
Nearly two years ago it had agreed to take back some people from the Rohingya group. However, hardly any went back.
Myanmar claimed that a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was an Islamist terrorist group. This instigated the army crackdown on it four years ago. Soon, an “independent international fact-finding committee” was formed by the United Nations. The committee was of the point of view that the horrors of the devastating situation of the Rohingya group during the August 2017 operations ( such as their indiscriminate killing) was up to the level of both crimes against humanity and war crimes as the Army targeted civilians for rape, killings, and sexual violence on a massive scale.
In November 2019, the Gambia along with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, placed Myanmar represented by State-counsellor Aug San Suu Kyi to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing it of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.
The ICJ passed a provisional order in the month of January asking the accused country to take “all measures within its power” in order to prevent any harm to the members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community. This prevention was directed in accordance with Myanmar’s obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. However, the orders are still not binding on Myanmar.
What were the international responses?
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation, Yanghee Lee, in 2019 told the Human Rights Council that the true habitability of the island was kind of unclear to her even after she made a visit to the island and ill-planned relocation, and/ or relocations without the receiving the consent of the refugees can potentially create a new crisis.
Associated Press states that the first group consisting of 1,642 Rohingya had arrived at the new site on December 4. They were transported by naval vessels from Chittagong. Some of the relocated people said that they were not asked for their consent while some Rohingyas said that they are “excited” at being relocated to a new, peaceful and nice place.
Bangladesh has been working more than any other country to deliver justice to the Rohingya community.
What is the present condition of the minority Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar?
There are still signs and reports of discrimination against the minority group in Myanmar. Recently, the latest elections witnessed Suu Kyi’s party winning with a bigger majority of votes in comparison to that in 2015. However, these elections had practically no Rohingya voters because the community had been stripped off of this right by the military junta before the last election. Moreover, the process of voting was entirely called off in Rakhine state and up to a million Rohingya outside Myanmar could not vote. Rakhine inhabits over a lakh Rohingya people. In fact, the nominations of Rohingya candidates were also rejected because they did not have enough documents to prove citizenship.

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