‘Island chosen for Rohingya refugees uninhabited, flooded’

‘Island chosen for Rohingya refugees uninhabited, flooded’

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The island where Bangladesh is shifting Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is a desolate landscape without buildings or human habitation, reports Reuters.
According to the Reuters report titled ‘Pirates, cyclones and mud: Bangladesh’s island solution to Rohingya crisis’ published Friday, the island takes two hours to reach by boat from the nearest settlement and does not have mobile-phone reception.The report says, during the monsoon, the island is often flooded and, when the seas are calm, pirates roam nearby waters hunting for fishermen to kidnap for ransom.
“Welcome to Thengar Char, a muddy stain in the murky waters of the Bay of Bengal, identified by Bangladesh as a short-term solution to the humanitarian crisis unfolding on its border with Myanmar, across which some 70,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled,” the news agency said.
According to Reuters, those refugees, escaping an army crackdown on insurgents that began in October, have joined ‘more than 200,000′ Rohingya already living in official and makeshift camps.
“Bangladesh says the refugees bring crime and a risk of disease,” it said.
Dhaka’s plan to move thousands of people to this uninhabited island Thengar Char in Noakhali’s Hatia, about 250 km (150 miles) northwest of the border camps the Rohingyas, was ‘much criticised’ by humanitarian workers when it was first proposed in 2015, Reuters said.
It said Bangladesh is sticking to the plan while ‘most experts dismiss the scheme as impractical’.
A Bangladeshi minister told Reuters this week that the government was determined to push the plan ahead, adding authorities would provide shelters, other facilities and livestock.
Local administrators, however, say they have not been informed, and when Reuters visited the island the only signs of activity were a few buffalo grazing lazily on the yellow grass along its shores.
“We have only heard bad things about the Rohingya. If they work with the pirates and get involved in crime – we don’t want them here,” Mizanur Rahman, 48, the administrator of Might Bangha village, the closest settlement to Thengar Char, told Reuters.
Rahman added, however, that if the Rohingya were “good people”, they should be helped on humanitarian grounds. Others from the village echoed that sentiment, saying they were fellow Muslims and deserved assistance.
The crisis is the biggest challenge facing the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, straining Myanmar’s relations with the countries of the region hosting large Rohingya populations such as Bangladesh and Malaysia, but also the United States.
About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while the authorities in Dhaka say they are Myanmar nationals and must ultimately go back.
There are currently around 30,000 Rohingya living in camps run by the United Nations near border with Myanmar, while tens of thousands more are crammed into slums that have grown up around them, without proper sanitation or healthcare, according to Reuters.
The Rohingya from those settlements sometimes find employment, but most are sustained by local villagers and rations quietly distributed by international aid agencies.
“We can operate here, but we can’t really talk about it,” one aid worker based in the border region told Reuters.
The Rohingya refugees Reuters spoke to did not want to stay where they were – but neither did they want to be moved to Thengar Char.
“We left everything in Myanmar,” said Abu Salam from Kya Guang Taung, a village in northern Myanmar that was destroyed in the crackdown. He crossed the border in December.
“That’s where our home is. If only we could get citizenship, we would like to go back.” – Reuters

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