It has been almost three and a half years that the Rohingyas fled for their lives from Rakhine in Myanmar to take refuge in Bangladesh. It remains uncertain when this oppressed community of Myanmar can begin to return to their homeland. In these circumstances, exactly one month ago the government relocated 1,642 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char in order to lessen the pressure on the camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The relocated Rohingya men and women say that they have found a new lease of life in Bhasan Char. They would like to remain on this island which has risen from the Bay of Bengal, until they can return back home to Rakhine.
Till the very last minute before the first batch of Rohingyas were shifted to Bhasan Char, the United Nations has questioned the relocation process. And then several leading international human rights agencies also called for a halt to the entire relocation move. However, the government relocated another batch of Rohingyas, this time 1,804, to Bhasan Char in a second phase in December.
A team of media persons accompanied the Rohingyas both times to Bhasan Char. This correspondent on both trips talked at length to the men, women and children who had been relocated. Most of them expressed their relief to be in this new settlement. They said now they wanted the commitment made about lives and livelihood to be fulfilled.
According to diplomatic sources and government officials involved in the relocation process, the stern stance of the international community against the relocation process has softened somewhat over the past month.
Speaking to newspersons at his office on Sunday, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said that foreign ambassadors and media would be taken to visit Bhasan Char. He said, “We have already taken the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, to Bhasan Char. We will take the UN there in future too.”
The 3,446 Rohingyas relocated to Bhasan Char include 1,658 children, 987 women and 801 men.
Head of the Asrayan-3 project of Bhasan Char, Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, speaking to Prothom Alo, said the various ministries are working in coordination with the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) to ensure the lives and livelihoods of the relocated Rohingyas. He said even on Saturday another 50 tonnes of food has arrived for the Rohingyas. He was confident that the UN and diplomatic mission representatives would be satisfied with the conditions there when they visited Bhasan Char.
Hamida Begum, who had moved from the Kutupalong camp in Ukhia to Bhasan Char, was speaking to this correspondent on 30 December. She said that overall she was much better here than in Cox’s Bazar. The government had provided food and other essentials to all the families.
A few yards on from Hamida’s house, Nur Hossain, Dil Mohammad and Nurul Kalam were hanging out together. They all said they were feeling safe and a sense of relief in Bhasan Char.
Additional commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation Mohammad Shamsuzzoha, speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday afternoon, said the RRRC office had worked in coordination with the navy, the NGO Bureau, the district administration and NGOs during the relocation from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char. Presently there were 30 NGOs working in Bhasan Char. All families there were being provided with food and other humanitarian assistance.
The members of the Muslim minority community of Myanmar are doing well on the island, though they have demands regarding their lives and livelihood. The question remains whether it is possible on the part of the government alone to meet all their needs. Concerned persons call children’s education to be taken into consideration.
In taking on the burden of around a million Rohingyas, Bangladesh has also taken on security risks alongside the socioeconomic ones. The UN may consider the matter with due empathy, while the government too must also keep in mind that, as in Cox’s Bazar, the UN must also involved in humanitarian assistance at Bhasan Char. After all, the question remains as to how feasible it is for the government to singlehandedly provide assistance to the Rohingyas from its own resources for an extended period of time.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir