INTERNATIONAL / SECURITY
Topic: General Studies 2:
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
Rohingya Refugees: Bangladesh Relocating them
Context: Bangladesh transported more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island Bhashan Char.
- Bangladesh government has announced a controversial relocation policy to move 1,00,000 of Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char island.
- Almost a million Rohingya — most of whom fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar three years ago — live in squalid camps in south-eastern Bangladesh. Any return to Myanmar appears unlikely for now.
- On December 10, agencies reported that a UN Human Rights investigator had requested Bangladesh to allow a safety assessment of the remote islet of Bhashan Char, where the government had shipped 1,600-odd Rohingya refugees.
Is the islet safe?
- Bhashan Char is a char-land of around 13,000 acres, formed by the accumulation of silt where the river Meghna meets the Bay of Bengal carrying rich alluvial deposits.
- Char-lands are a common feature in Meghna and Padma rivers and literally mean “shifting landmass”.
- As the name reveals, the char was not part of the permanent land feature of Bangladesh, but appeared recently.
- Bhashan Char is surrounded by a mangrove forest that has given it geographical stability.
- Sensing a tourism opportunity, the Bangladesh government had declared Bhashan Char as a protected forest land in 2013.
- It is a two-and-a-half-hours boat ride away from Cox’s Bazar in Chittagong.
- The main argument for the char-land being unsafe is that these lands are known to be unstable and flood-prone. The other fear factor includes the tropical cyclones that visit the area every year.
What is the arrangement for the Rohingya?
- Over the past few years, Bangladesh has constructed roads and brought modern telecommunication networks to Bhashan Char.
- The Bangladesh government has earmarked around 1,350 acres for the Rohingya refugees, of which 432 acres is dedicated to their rehabilitation and the rest remains for future projects.
- The government has constructed a large number of housing units in the section designated for the Rohingya.
- 1600 Rohingya refugees are now being housed in red-roofed residential units and most houses are built four feet above the ground to help them withstand unexpected high tidal waves
Why is Bangladesh moving the refugees?
- Rohingya refugees of Kutupalong, near Cox’s Bazar, have been living in a large refugee camp near the forested borders with Myanmar since 2017, when they were forced to traverse the forest and the rivers that constitute the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar’s Rakhine province.
- Ever since their arrival, the refugees, numbering 1 million, have been living in Kutupalong refugee camp under bamboo and tarpaulin structures.
- The camp is located on a hillock, which was a sanctuary for elephants and other wild animals.
- Also, Kutupalong has also been in the news for its rising crime rate.
- Bangladesh argues that the islet will provide a safer place.
Why are human rights agencies upset?
- Amnesty International said Bangladesh must “drop” its plans to shift Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char as the char-land had not yet been declared safe for habitation by the United Nations.
- It is alleged that many Rohingya who were asked to relocate said they were coerced.
- Human Rights agencies are arguing that any decisions relating to the relocation of refugees must be transparent and involve the full participation of the Rohingya people.
What happens next?
- Diplomatic sources have confirmed that Dhaka does not plan to relocate the entire refugee settlement and only aims at reducing the congestion in Kutupalong.
- The country’s long-term plan for Rohingya refugees is to seek their repatriation to the Rakhine province of Myanmar.
Connecting the dots:
- ICJ’s ruling on Myanmar Rohingyas: Click here