NGOs opposing Rohingya relocation to Bhasan Char to advance own interests: Hasina

Sheikh Hasina has lashed out at some NGOs that are opposing relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, an island in the southeastern district of Noakhali.

Published : 26 April 2019, 06:02 PM
Updated : 26 April 2019, 07:01 PM

Taking questions from journalists at a news conference at the Ganabhaban in Dhaka on Friday, the prime minister warned the NGOs will be held accountable if a disaster such as landslide strikes the Cox's Bazar refugee camps.

“The monsoon is coming. Landslide, cyclone, tidal surge may occur any time there. Those who are opposing the relocations of the refugees to Bhasan Char or return to Myanmar will also be held accountable if any accident happens in Cox's Bazar camps,” she said.

Hasina said she had already expressed her views on the issue to the UN as well.

Some NGOs are voluntarily working on Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar, she said.

"Some people are not much sincere about the repatriation of the Rohingyas, but taking care of the refugees. Because Cox's Bazar is a good place to carry out the volunteer work and they can gain some good reputation. They are also considering these aspects.”

The government has allocated Tk 23.12 billion for the construction of homes for 100,000 Rohingyas on Bhasan Char, which could help decongest the overcrowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar.

The government planned to move nearly 400,000 refugees who came from Myanmar in the past few decades to Noakhali’s island Upazila of Hatia to deal with the problems that arise in the refugee camps. Bhasan Char, also known as Thengar Char, is 10,000 acres at high tide and 15,000 acres at low tide.

However, several international organisations expressed their concerns about the government’s plans for the Rohingya settlements on the island inside the sea where no one lives.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR initially welcomed the plan, but recently said that the relocations must go ahead only if the Rohingyas want to move out.

When journalists drew the prime minister’s attention to the issue, she said, "We cannot force them considering the humane aspect, which we told the UN agencies that work on refugees and migration about. We also showed them the development we made in Bhasan Char and told them they (refugees) can go there.”

"If they do not want to go, there is no shortage of people in our country. We will be able to accommodate well our people there. If they (Rohingyas) are sent there they will at least be able to live like human beings," she said, pointing out miseries of the refugees at the Cox’s Bazar camps.

The government has built cyclone shelters on Bhasan Char and was planning to set up schools and hospitals there, Hasina said.

“Let me be candid about this - Cox’s Bazar is a fine place and easy to travel. They (NGOs) come to provide humanitarian care to the refugees, but it seems they care more about their own care...,” she added.

File Photo: A Rohingya family at the makeshift refugee camp on Balukhali Hill in Cox's Bazar's Ukhia. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

Earlier, Reuters published a report calling the island dangerous for habitation, saying it was prone to bandit attacks, floods, and cyclones. A report from the Bangladesh Forests Division last February also called it unsuitable for habitation.

A few months later a report by the Noakhali district administration declared Bhasan Char to be similar to other river islands in the area. There will be no problems building settlements if the relevant infrastructure is in place, the report said.

A Myanmar military crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to take refuge in Bangladesh in recent years, spurring the government to speed up its initiative to relocate the refugees with no imminent repatriation in sight.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher