Bangladesh: OIC Visits Remote Island Housing Rohingya Refugees

Jesmin Papri and Sunil Barua
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
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Bangladesh: OIC Visits Remote Island Housing Rohingya Refugees A Rohingya woman holds a child inside the room of a housing complex on Bhashan Char island, Dec. 30, 2020.

Updated at 11:10 a.m. ET on 03-03-2021

Although U.N. officials have not been allowed to inspect a low-lying island that Bangladesh has developed to house Rohingya refugees, a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation visited the site Sunday and expressed satisfaction with infrastructure there, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said.

The delegation led by Ambassador Youssef Aldobeay, the OIC’s assistant secretary general for political affairs, visited Bhashan Char as well as Kutupalong Rohingya Camp on the mainland on Sunday, according to a Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement issued the same day.

“While visiting the Bhashan Char, the OIC delegation discussed [the] overall situation of Rohingyas residing in Bhashan Char with the relevant stakeholders, and also interacted with the Rohingya people,” the statement said.

Aldobeay “expressed satisfaction at the physical infrastructure in the Bhashan Char as well as the adequate facilities provided by the Bangladesh government for the Rohingyas,” it said.

On Monday, the OIC delegation visited with senior officials in Dhaka, where they “applauded the initiatives taken by Bangladesh in relation to Bhashan Char,” the foreign ministry said.

Foreign Minister A.K Abdul Momen briefed the delegation about Bhashan Char, where the government has constructed facilities to house about 100,000 Rohingya.

Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister of foreign affairs, reiterated the government’s position calling for a safe repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar, and called on OIC members to push for their return.

About 1 million Rohingya have fled from neighboring Myanmar and settled in refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, including more than 740,000 who left following the August 2017 military crackdown in Rakhine state that some have described as attempted genocide.

‘Waiting for permission’

The OIC visit was the first by any international official since Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar at the time, went to the “recently emerged island” in January 2019 and advised Dhaka to allow full technical, humanitarian and security assessments before moving refugees there.

"I had the opportunity to visit the island on my last visit to Bangladesh and saw with my own eyes the works that the Bangladesh government has undertaken. However, 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," she told the U.N. Human Rights Council in March of that year.

Since then, U.N. officials have not visited the island.

“We have been waiting for permission from the government to conduct the technical assessment,” a U.N. official in Dhaka told BenarNews on Monday, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on this topic.

Despite the lack of those assessments, the Bangladesh government has begun relocating Rohingya refugees to the island, and plans to move another 3,000 this week, bringing the total thus far to 13,000.

The OIC delegation met with Rohingya Sunday at Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar.

“OIC, the organization, is supporting the Rohingya, we are supporting their return back to their country with full rights and dignity,” Yousef Aldobeay told reporters through an interpreter.

“We also call on the international community to assume their duties and responsibilities to support the people of Rohingya to return to their home safe with full rights.”

A Rohingya woman who attended the meeting expressed satisfaction with the message.

“The OIC delegation told us that they have intensified their efforts to resolve the Rohingya crisis,” Monowara Begum told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, addressing concerns about a boat carrying dozens of Rohingya that has been adrift in the Andaman Sea since early February, Momen called on New Delhi to take them in.

Indian authorities have reportedly declined to allow the refugees to land and said they were in talks with Bangladesh about their “safe return.”

“The boat carrying Rohingya adrift in the sea is about 1,700 km (1050 miles) off the Bangladesh maritime boundary, 147 km (91 miles) from Indian waters, and 342 km (212 miles) away from Myanmar waters. So, India should provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya,” he told BenarNews.

“Bangladesh has not adopted a policy of giving shelter to every Rohingya wherever they are found on boats adrift,” he said.

Eight people on the boat carrying 90 Rohingya have died, the director of The Arakan Project, a human rights group that monitors the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, told BenarNews on Feb. 22. She said that Indian Navy ships had found the boat and were assisting its passengers.

This story has been updated to revise the attribution of a quote.


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