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Diplomacy, Politics

Bangladesh to relocate Rohingya refugees to a island

International actors told to stay out of decision.


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Updated: September 6, 2019

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has said if the UN agencies do not support the government’s plan to move 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal, they would be expelled, if necessary, reports the Deutsche Welle.

In an interview, published on the German broadcaster’s website on Wednesday, he was asked if he would expel the UN agencies if they didn’t support his plans. “We’ll do it if necessary,” he replied.

He also expressed disappointment that the UN had failed to put enough pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas.

“It is time to relocate them to Bhasan Char. But the island cannot accommodate all of them; we can send only 100,000 refugees there,” he said, when asked if the refugees’ reluctance to return to Myanmar prompted the government to make the plan.

“We didn’t want to repatriate them forcefully. We had hoped it would be done voluntarily.

“The island offers economic activities to the refugees. But the aid agencies working in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps don’t want to move to Bhasan Char. In Cox’s Bazar, they stay in five-star hotels and so they don’t want to go to another place.

“We are also identifying international non-government organisations that are politicising the Rohingya issue.”

Even if the UN agencies don’t support the relocation plan, the government might go ahead with it, the foreign minister said.

“We have seized many leaflets, CDs and videos that urge Rohingyas not to go back to Myanmar if certain demands are not met. Myanmar authorities have agreed to meet one of these demands: provide safety, security and mobility to the Rohingya people.”

Demands such as granting citizenship to Rohingyas, punishment for people involved in the Rohingya massacre, recognising Rohingya as an ethnic group, and allowing them to return to their own homes have not been agreed upon.

The government can relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char without UN support, Momen said.

“The UN has to agree to the plan or it can take the refugees with them. Already, some of these people are getting involved in criminal activities.”

The number of Rohingya refugees in the area is more than double the number of local citizens. The local residents are increasingly complaining of criminal activities, he said.

“We cannot allow that. That is why we could force their relocation.

“Bangladesh is not a rich nation. We’re the world’s most densely populated country. Still, we have done a lot for the Rohingya. It’s time for others to come forward because it is not just our problem. It’s an international issue, and had we not given them protection, they could have faced a genocide.

“We are willing to send them anywhere, to anyone who wants to take them. We cannot afford to keep them for years.”

The arrangement at the Bhasan Char island would be temporary. Bangladesh cannot keep them there forever, Momen said.

Asked if the government should antagonise the UN, he said the UN was not helping much.

“They are not working to create a conducive environment in Mynamar’s Rakhine state. Why don’t these UN aid agencies work in Myanmar? They should go to Myanmar, especially to Rakhine state, to create conditions that could help these refugees to go back to their country. The UN is not doing the job that we expect them to do.”

Regarding the safety of human inhabitation in the island, Momen said the government had built embankments and beautiful houses there. “If we tell Bangladeshi people to go there, they would definitely go there.”

If the refugees move to Bhasan Char, they would be able to enjoy free movement there, he said.



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Daily Star
About the Author: The Daily Star is a leading English-language daily newspaper in Bangladesh.

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