The United Nations and the Bangladeshi government have signed an agreement to work together to help Rohingya refugees on an island in the Bay of Bengal, where thousands of people have been evacuated from a collapsed camp near the Myanmar border.
The government has already relocated more than 19,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char Island, and the United Nations says one of the main reasons for signing the agreement is to start serving that population.
Bangladesh is planning to relocate one lakh Rohingyas to the island in phases from the overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district.
The agreement came as an example after criticism from the United Nations and humanitarian groups over the relocation, saying the 30-year-old island was submerged in regular monsoon rains not suitable for habitation.
But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has spent more than ২ 112 million on development, adding sea walls, hospitals, schools and mosques, and insisting it is no longer a risky area.
After Saturday’s agreement, authorities said another 81,000 refugees would be relocated to the island in the next three months.
A UN team visited the island in March before the changed outlook of the world body.
In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the agreement was a further manifestation of Bangladesh’s generosity and support for the Rohingya people, until they could return to Myanmar safely and permanently.
The agreement allows for closer cooperation between the government and the United Nations in services and activities for the benefit of the island’s inhabitants. The United Nations said talks had been held with Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar as well as those already living on Bhasan Char Island before the agreement was signed.
“These include key areas of protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods and health, which will help refugees better live on the island and better prepare for their sustainable return to Myanmar in the future,” the statement said.
UNHCR representative Johannes van der Klau said the agency had visited the island and believed the Bangladesh government had added “critical infrastructure” to address environmental hazards. He said the agreement allowed refugees to move back and forth between the main camp in the island and Cox’s Bazar.
Refugees will also have the opportunity to earn a living through strange work that will be accessible once aid agencies are established on the island. Van der Kloo also mentioned that the movement on the floating char would be on an informed and voluntary basis.
But most Rohingya refugees say they do not want to relocate.
A woman who moved to the island with her family earlier this year said many fled by boat and returned to camp because life on the island is difficult for refugees.
“If people stay there for a few years, they can all start having mental problems,” he said, adding that medical and other support facilities on the island are not very well established. He was reluctant to reveal his name for fear of retaliation.
Amir Hamza, another refugee, said he would not relocate to the island.
“I will go to the country where I was born, my father and grandfather. I love that country and I want to go there. I refuse to go to another country, island, or anywhere, even if I am given milk and rice in a golden dish. I am ready and happy to go to my country, land and my home. ”
Bangladesh has sheltered 1.1 million Rohingya from Myanmar, including more than 700,000 who fled a harsh military operation against the Muslim-majority ethnic group in August 2017 after a rebel attack. Hasina says her administration will not force them to return.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya are not recognized as citizens, they are stateless and face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
In 2011, a UN-sponsored UN inquiry recommended the trial of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for violence against the Rohingya.