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UN envoy fears ‘new crisis’ for Rohingya if moved to BD island

Updated March 12, 2019

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Bangladesh says moving refugees to Bhasan Char — whose name means  “floating island” — will ease chronic overcrowding. — AFP/File
Bangladesh says moving refugees to Bhasan Char — whose name means “floating island” — will ease chronic overcrowding. — AFP/File

GENEVA: A United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar voiced deep concern on Monday over Bangladesh’s plan to relocate 23,000 Rohingya refugees in April to a remote island, saying it may not be habitable and could create a potential “new crisis”.

Bangladesh says moving refugees to Bhasan Char — whose name means “floating island” — will ease chronic overcrowding in its camps at Cox’s Bazar, which hold some 730,000 Rohingya.

The UN says the Muslim minority fled mass killings and rapes committed during an army crackdown in Rakhine state since August 2017.

Some humanitarian groups have criticised the relocation plan, saying the island in the Bay of Bengal is vulnerable to frequent cyclones.

“There are a number of things that remain unknown to me even following my visit, chief among them being whether the island is truly habitable,” said Yan­ghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, who visited the island in January.

“Ill-planned relocation, and relocations without the consent of the refugees concerned, have the potential to create a new crisis,” she told the UN Human Rights Council. Shah Kamal, secretary of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Ministry, said the government was in talks with UN agencies on the issue.

“(The agencies) have agreed. Now were finalising with them how to move them (the refugees) and all other factors. Everything is ready... Housing, power, healthcare, communication, storm surge embankment, cyclone shelter centres and all other facilities,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2019