Foreign Minister Mr. A H Mahmood Ali, MP, briefed the members of the diplomatic community on the situation of Myanmar refugees and undocumented Myanmar nationals at the State Guest House Padma today. About 60 (sixty) Ambassadors/High Commissioners / Heads of Missions /representatives of various Diplomatic Missions in Dhaka as well as representatives from Office of UNRC, IOM, UNHCR and other UN agencies attended the briefing. The briefing was also graced by Advisor to Hon’ble Prime Minister on Political Affairs, Hon’ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cabinet Secretary, and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, among others.
During the briefing, Hon’ble Foreign Minister apprised the diplomatic community of the steps that the Government of Bangladesh had taken vis-à-vis Myanmar refugees and the undocumented Myanmar nationals who entered Bangladesh to flee persecution and communal violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. This huge population numbering more than 400,000 (including the newly arrived 69,000) is living mainly in Cox’s Bazar in two registered camps and makeshift settlements. He also mentioned about successful repatriation of around 236,599 Myanmar refugees through an agreement negotiated during 1991-92 in which he had been deeply involved in his official capacity.
The Foreign Minister stressed that the presence of the huge number of Myanmar Nationals in Cox’s Bazar district has not only created formidable challenges for the authorities to manage humanitarian assistances to them but also created a number of adverse effects on the overall socio-economic, political, demographic, environmental, and humanitarian and security situation of Cox’s Bazar and adjacent districts and also negatively affecting the eco-tourism prospects. Citing the vulnerable nature of this population, he added that networks have emerged in this area for the purpose of human trafficking and smuggling of narcotic drugs.
The Foreign Minister explained that since the existing accommodation arrangements in the Cox’s Bazar District for the Myanmar Refugees and undocumented Myanmar Nationals are already over-stretched, arranging shelters for the new arrivals has become a new challenge for the authorities. In this situation, in order to ensure humanitarian assistance to the Myanmar Nationals, the Government of Bangladesh has decided to relocate this population to Thengar Char, an Islandnext to Hatia Island in the Bay of Bengal. He hoped that it would help the Myanmar refugees including undocumented Myanmar nationals to have better access to the humanitarian assistances. The Foreign Minister informed that in order to make the place habitable, the Government plans to build necessary infrastructure including shelter, schools, hospitals/health centers, mosques, roads etc and he added that the relocation will take place only after the development activities are completed. He also hoped that he would be able to lead the diplomatic community to visit the place once the infrastructure is in place.
In this regard, he requested the bilateral, UN and other international partners to render their support in the implementation of this relocation plan by providing assistance in developing the island and in transporting the Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh to the new place of their residence. He also mentioned that while this remains a temporary arrangement for the Myanmar refugees, Bangladesh would like the international community to take meaningful measures for repatriation of this population to their homes back in Myanmar.
The Dean of Diplomatic Corps the Brazilian Ambassador, the US Ambassador, the Saudi Ambassador, UNRC highly praised Bangladesh Government and its people for hosting this population for decades and rendering necessary humanitarian support to them. The Saudi Ambassador particularly referred to the presence of Myanmar population in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and explicitly stated his Government’s support to Bangladesh. The representatives of diplomatic community in general expressed their readiness to help the government implement its relocation plan as and when it is finalized. They also expressed their hope that this will bring improvements in the living condition of this population. In addition the representatives also recognized that the ultimate solution lies in the repatriation of these refugees from Myanmar to their homeland and also assured their full support in this regard.
The Foreign Minister thanked the diplomatic community for their presence in the meeting and assured them to keep them abreast with all future developments on this matter.