The UN said on Monday that it “appreciates” the Bangladeshi government’s plan to relocate Rohingya refugees from camps in and around the south-eastern city of Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char, a remote island off the country’s coast.
In a press statement issued by its office in Dhaka, the UN said that the Bangladeshi government’s efforts to seek alternative locations for refugees to settle could help to decongest the overcrowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar. “The UN’s position is to engage constructively with the government on Bhasan Char. We are discussing with the government the critical protection and operational issues that should be considered before any relocations take place, in order to ensure that refugees would be able to live in safe and sustainable living conditions on Bhasan Char,” it said. “We are seeking clarification about the modalities of any relocations, the living conditions that would be provided and the basic rights and services that refugees would be able to access if they decided to relocate to Bhashan Char, as well as issues of governance and access that the UN and partners would have to the island,” the statement added.
Bangladesh’s state minister for disaster and relief management Mohammed Enamur Rahman has said that the relocation process will start by April 15. A group of 23,000 Rohingya families will be moved to Bhashan Char in the first set of transfers.
Human rights groups have criticized plans to relocate refugees to the island, raising doubts over the island’s habitability and living conditions. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, says that Bangladesh’s plan to move the Rohingya refugees appears to be “a human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making,” insisting that UN agencies should be “talking about how to stop this ill-considered scheme, not facilitate it.” In January Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, raised her concerns after an on-site inspection. “There are a number of things that remain unknown to me even following my visit, chief among them being whether the island is truly habitable,” she said.
The Bangladesh government maintains that the relocation will be carried out on a voluntary basis. Abul Kalam, the country’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, assured that no refugee would be relocated by force.