A welcome move by UNHCR
We welcome the signing of an MOU between the government of Bangladesh and the UNHCR that paves the way for the world body to provide all kinds of assistance to the Rohingyas relocated to Bhashan Char, in the same manner that it has been assisting the Rohingyas living in Cox's Bazar. The support covers key areas such as protection, education, skills training, livelihoods, and health, which will help the refugees lead a decent life and prepare better for their eventual return to Myanmar.
The signing of the agreement signals the removal of all reservations the UN might have had about the government's decision to relocate around 100,000 refugees to the island. Hopefully, this has also laid to rest any misgivings about Bhashan Char.
While we understand the reason for the resistance of some international organisations and aid agencies to the relocation—particularly because of the area's supposed vulnerability to storm and tidal surge—we, nonetheless, hope that the international community appreciates our position and, indeed, the compulsions that necessitated shifting a portion of the refugees from Cox's Bazar.
As of December 2020, there are nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in 34 camps in the district of Cox's Bazar. The presence of such a large population of refugees has had the most devastating impact on the ecology of that area, apart from creating social unrest there. One should not also overlook the serious security implications that the addition of such a large number of people entails. Although only about 20 percent of the projected 100,000 Rohingyas have been transferred to Bhashan Char, the transfer of the rest, in phases, will hopefully be completed soon.
While the rearrangement is appreciated, we would hope that Bhashan Char does not send the wrong signal to the international community or the military junta in Myanmar. The relocation, we must emphasise, is a temporary expedient—to reduce the inordinate pressure on Cox's Bazar. The ultimate objective is the repatriation of the refugees to the land of their birth, their homeland, with full dignity and honour and their rights as citizens of Myanmar restored. The UN and the major nations must intensify their efforts to ensure that the Myanmar government takes back their citizens. We hope that this happens soon. But till such time as the refugees return home, there should be no let-up in the efforts of the international community to ensure that the refugees enjoy a humane existence in the camps.