Bangladesh’s Ro­hingya re­lo­ca­tion plan raises con­cerns

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY SAM JA­HAN

The re­mote Bangladeshi is­land of Then­gar Char dis­ap­pears com­pletely un­der sev­eral me­ters of wa­ter at high tide, and has no roads or flood de­fenses.

But that hasn’t stopped the gov­ern­ment from propos­ing to re­lo­cate thou­sands of Ro­hingya refugees living in camps in the south­east­ern dis­trict of Cox’s Bazar which bor­ders Myan­mar to its marshy shores.

Bangladesh said last month it was look­ing to move the around 32,000 reg­is­tered refugees, in part be­cause they were ham­per­ing tourism in the coastal re­sort dis­trict — home to the world’s long­est un­bro­ken beach.

The pro­posal has been met with alarm from lead­ers of the Ro­hingya, who be­gan ar­riv­ing more than two decades ago af­ter flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Myan­mar, and whose des­per­ate search for a se­cure home­land has re­cently been thrown into the spot­light by a re­gional smug­gling cri­sis.

The U. N. refugee agency, which has been help­ing them since 1992, said a move would be “lo­gis­ti­cally chal­leng­ing” — an as­sess­ment con­firmed by a re­cent visit to the area by AFP.

Po­lice on the neigh­bor­ing is­land of Hatiya pre­vented the boat AFP was trav­el­ing on from go­ing to Then­gar Char, say­ing they could safety.

But ac­counts from lo­cal peo­ple and a for­est depart­ment of­fi­cial who over­saw the 2011 plant­ing of man­groves on Then­gar Char gave an in­di­ca­tion of the chal­lenges.

“At high tide the en­tire is­land is un­der (about a me­ter) of wa­ter,” said the of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to live there,” he said, com­par­ing the plan to “com­pelling a guest to sit on a spiked chair af­ter invit­ing him to your home.”

Low- l ying Then­gar Char, around 30 kilo­me­ters ( 18 miles) east of Hatiya is­land, only emerged from the sea around eight years ago and does not ap­pear on Google Maps.

The 10,000-acre is­land is ad­min­is­tered from Hatiya, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 600,000, but lo­cal boat op­er­a­tors told AFP they rarely went there.

Such a jour­ney would in any case be im­pos­si­ble dur­ing the mon­soon months of June to Septem­ber, when the seas are per­ilous — and the is­land would be com­pletely cut off.

The is­land, around two hours away from the main­land by speed­boat, is in an area fre­quently hit by cy­clones, which have killed thou­sands in Hatiya and Bangladesh’s south­ern

not

guar­an­tee

its

coast in the past.

‘Iso­lated and fre­quented by

pi­rates’

Hatiya’s top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial A.H.M. Moy­eenud­din said the is­land had been cho­sen by a team of gov­ern­ment sur­vey­ors dis­patched to the area on the or­ders of Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina.

He ad­mit­ted that re­lo­cat­ing thou­sands to the is­land would be chal­leng­ing, but said the con­struc­tion of cy­clone shel­ters, a bar­rage and a hos­pi­tal would be enough to “make the place live­able.”

Hatiya po­lice chief Nu­rul Huda de­clared it an “ideal place for Ro­hingya re­lo­ca­tion” — even though it is “iso­lated and fre­quented by pi­rates.”

“All we need is a po­lice sta­tion to main­tain law and or­der,” he told AFP.

But res­i­dents of Hatiya re­main to be con­vinced by the pro­posal.

“We are al­ready tired of Ben­gali pi­rates and river ero­sion. We don’t want our peace dis­rupted any fur­ther,” said Ab­dul Halim, who took part in a re­cent protest by scores of is­lan­ders.

Rights groups have ex­pressed con­cern at the pro­posed re­lo­ca­tion of the refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, which comes as Bangladesh is un­der scru­tiny over its treat­ment of the Ro­hingya.

The Mus­lim mi­nor­ity Ro­hingya are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship and face a raft of re­stric­tions in Myan­mar, in­clud­ing on their move­ment, fam­ily size and jobs, lead­ing thou­sands to flee ev­ery year.

The ex­o­dus was largely ig­nored un­til a crack­down on the peo­plesmug­gling trade in Thai­land last month caused chaos as gang­mas­ters aban­doned their hu­man car­goes on land and sea.

Thou­sands are now living in tents on scrub­land on the fron­tier be­tween the two coun­tries, wanted by nei­ther.

Most of Myan­mar’s 1.3 mil­lion Ro­hingya have no cit­i­zen­ship and are con­sid­ered by the gov­ern­ment to be il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

Those living in the Bangladesh camps have refugee sta­tus and re­ceive sup­port from the United Na­tions, mean­ing they have ac­cess to food, shel­ter and other ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties.

But as Bangladesh and Myan­mar face in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny over the fate of the state­less Ro­hingya, some fear a plot to move them as far from scru­tiny as pos­si­ble.

“There are other is­lands nearby, hab­it­able for hu­mans,” said the for­est depart­ment of­fi­cial.

“But some­how, this is­land, which be­comes in­un­dated dur­ing ev­ery sin­gle high-tide was pro­posed as the re­lo­ca­tion site.”

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