Two senior officials from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) visited a remote Bangladeshi island Monday in the southern Bay of Bengal to assess the living conditions of more than 18,000 stateless Rohingya, according to official sources.
With the facilitation of the Bangladesh government, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Raouf Mazou and Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs arrived on Bhasan Char island. They will also visit the mainland camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar.
In less than a week, three UN officials have visited the persecuted people in Bangladesh. On May 26, veteran Turkish diplomat and UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir visited Cox's Bazar, the world's largest refugee camp.
“Based on the preliminary findings of the first UN visit to Bhasan Char in late March, the UN clearly recognizes the prevailing humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya refugees already relocated to the island,” Louise Donovan, UNHCR communications officer in Bangladesh, told Anadolu Agency.
Referring to the UN's efforts to assess the living conditions and safety of Rohingya on the distant island, she added: “The UN has therefore proposed further discussions with the government of Bangladesh regarding its future operational engagement on Bhasan Char, including on the policies that govern the life and well-being of Rohingya refugees on the island."
The government has constructed 1,400 big cluster houses four feet above the ground with concrete blocks and 120 multi-storied cyclone shelters on the island. Each cluster house is made up of 16 rooms.
Spending over $350 million from its domestic resources, the Muslim-majority country has developed a resettlement project on 13,000 acres for temporarily resettling 100,000 Rohingya Muslims.
According to official sources, the silt island located 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the country’s southwestern coast and nearly 193 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital Dhaka remains disconnected from the mainland and any potential assistance during natural disasters.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Shah Rezwan Hayat, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, however, said they are hopeful about the UN's positive move in the future for Rohingya on Bhasan Char island.
Noting the better living conditions and safety on the island than that of the congested mainland camps in Cox’s Bazar, he added that the UN may have some additional requirements.
“If they further put forward any other requirements for Rohingya on Bhasan Char island, the government will evaluate those as per provisions,” Hayat said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Rohingya came out of their homes to demand livelihood opportunities during the UN team's visit to the island.
“We feel like we are in prison. We have been eating the same foods for a long time, and we are even restricted from fishing in the sea,” said a Rohingya, preferring anonymity.
He added that just a better house is not everything.
“It seems to me that I am in an island prison,” he stressed.
In late April, Human Rights Watch accused Bangladeshi security forces of torturing Rohingya refugees on the island, pressing the government to investigate the matter.
According to police sources, 29 Rohingya were detained after attempting to flee the island.
Concerns over the beating of Rohingya on island
Meanwhile, the UNHCR in a statement issued Monday night expressed concerns over the injuring of Rohingya refugees on the island on the eve of the UN high officials’ visit.
Members of the Bangladeshi naval force allegedly used batons against Rohingya on Monday morning, leaving more than a dozen people injured, including women and children.
“We are deeply concerned to learn of reports of refugees who have been injured during today’s [Monday] events on the island. We regret that those affected reportedly include children and women,” said the statement.
Citing the safety and well-being of Rohingya as the “main priority” of the UN, the statement added: “We continue to urgently seek additional information on the condition of those affected and urge that they receive adequate medical assistance."
The statement, however, said that during Monday’s visit, the UNHCR delegation was able to meet with a large group of Rohingya refugees and to listen to the various issues they raised, which the delegation will further discuss with Bangladeshi authorities.
“The delegation has now arrived in Cox’s Bazar and is scheduled to visit the Rohingya refugee camps tomorrow, 1 June, before returning to Dhaka to meet with senior government officials,” it added.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.