Bhasan Char impasse untangled
The stalemate over the United Nation's involvement in humanitarian support to Rohingyas in Bhasan Char is finally over with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the UN and the government yesterday.
The agreement would facilitate a close operation between the global body and the government on providing the Rohingyas with different services on the remote island, officials said.
Rohingyas have hailed the development.
"We are extremely happy," Abdul Hamid, a Rohingya man living in Bhasan Char, told The Daily Star over the phone.
The UN engagement will boost the assistance handed to Rohingyas, he said.
"We will get more food and better facilities. We will get more opportunities to earn as well," he added.
After the government began relocating Rohingyas to Bhasan Char from the camps in Cox's Bazar, the UN was keeping itself aloof from the move, citing various reasons, including the absence of an independent assessment of the housing facility built for Rohingyas on the island.
The impasse has been untangled after over a year of stalemate.
The agreement has established a common protection and policy framework for the Rohingya humanitarian response in Bhasan Char, officials said.
UNHCR Bangladesh representative Johannes van der Klaauw and Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Md Mohsin signed the MoU on behalf of the two sides at the Secretariat.
"It [the agreement] is a recognition from the UN. It also highlights that the Bangladesh government took the right decision [on the relocation of Rohingyas to the island]," Md Mohsin told The Daily Star last night.
UN activities on Bhasan Char have begun with the deal signing, he mentioned.
The UNHCR -- the UN refugee agency -- signed the MoU on behalf of UN agencies working on the Rohingya response in Bangladesh.
"The MoU covers key areas including protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods and health [of the Rohingyas], which will help support the refugees to lead a decent life and prepare better for their sustainable return to Myanmar in future," said a UNHCR statement after the deal was signed.
The UN response will build upon and complement the humanitarian assistance so far provided by Bangladeshi NGOs on the island, it added.
The UN organisations would provide their humanitarian assistance in Bhasan Char as they do in camps in Cox's Bazar, Mohsin said.
The humanitarian assistance will be given under the supervision of the civil administration, he added.
Since December last year, the government has relocated about 18,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char from Cox's Bazar in phases.
The government plans to shift about 81,000 more Rohingyas to the island in three months, according to Mohsin.
The facility in Bhasan Char can accommodate about one lakh Rohingyas, he said.
Bangladesh Navy implemented the Tk 3,100 crore housing project with 120 brick-built cluster villages and 120 cyclone shelters, flood protection embankments, facilities for education, farming and fishing, hospitals and playgrounds.
The UN, however, had raised concerns over risks of tidal surges and cyclones at the remote island despite the government's repeated assurance that the char is a much better living place than the Cox's Bazar camps.
In the absence of the UN in Bhasan Char, Bangladeshi non-governmental organisations (NGOs) began providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas in December last year from their fund. Since then, the government had repeatedly been urging the UN to begin its operations there.
The MoU is a further expression of the government of Bangladesh's generosity and support towards the Rohingya population until they can return safely and sustainably to Myanmar, the UNHCR said in the statement.
The Bangladesh government will look after the security of the Rohingya people living in the Bhasan Char and the security of the local and international aid workers, Mohsin said.
Asked about the measures taken to keep the island's new inhabitants safe, Mohsin said: "Security measures are very good in Bhasan Char."
Besides, an additional 200 Ansar members will be recruited soon for the island, he said.
The UNHCR said prior to the signing of the MoU, the UN held discussions with the Rohingya refugee community in Cox's Bazar, as well as with those already on the island during a UN visit to Bhasan Char in March 2021, to better understand their needs and views.
"These discussions, as well as those with government counterparts and Bangladeshi NGOs working on the island are expected to continue on a regular basis."
The UN encourages the international community to increase its generous support to the humanitarian response in Bangladesh, recognising that the Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Response in Cox's Bazar is currently less than half funded for this year, the UNHCR statement said.
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief M Enamur Rahman was present at the signing ceremony.
Bangladesh has been hosting more than 1.1 million displaced Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar. Most of them arrived after a military crackdown by Myanmar in 2017, which the UN called a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and other rights groups called "genocide".