UN to fund Rohingya relocation to island

Bhashan Char, an island that emerged in 2006, is the area chosen by Dhaka to ease the pressure on Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. Housing and embankments are being built. Critics note the area is exposed to monsoons. The United Nations will ensure that relocation is voluntary.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations is prepared to financially help Bangladesh in relocating Rohingya refugees, the UN resident coordinator's office in Bangladesh said on Monday after Bangladesh said it could no longer bear the refugee burden on its own.

The Bangladeshi government plans to move refugees to the island of Bhashan Char in April so as to ease the pressure on Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, in particular that of Kutupalong, on the border with Myanmar.

More than 740,000 Muslim refugees have moved into the area, after fleeing the outbreak of fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

The UN agency wants to "engage constructively" with the government to ensure that refugees live "in safe and sustainable living conditions".

The relocation to the island will take place on a voluntary basis. Repatriation to Myanmar will also been on a voluntary basis but negotiations to that effect have stalled.

The process was supposed to start on 15 November 2018, but no one refugee has expressed a willingness to go back, at least until Myanmar guarantees them security and citizenship.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner (Protection) Volker Turk said on 21 March that repatriation is going to be a long process.

The area Bangladesh authorities chose for relocation presents several problems. The remote island is an hour away by boat from the mainland

Refugees and experts have raised concerns about its capacity to withstand the monsoon that tears along Bangladesh's coastline every year.

The island only emerged from the water in 2006 and lies in a coastal area prone to strong winds, flooding, cyclones and other extreme weather.

For Bangladeshi authorities, it is crucial to proceed with the relocation to the muddy island and expects at least 100,000 refugees to move to the new settlement.

A three-metre embankment was built around the island at a cost of US$ 280 million and should keep out tidal surges in the event of a cyclone.