Relocation of Rohingyas toThengar Char Island

Relocation of Rohingyas toThengar Char Island


The Rohingyas are in news for the inhuman treatment given to them by Myanmar and Bangladesh governments.

In the backdrop of this a news has come that Bangladesh government has decided to resettle a large group of the more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in an island called `Thengar Char` off the Noakhali district coast.

Dhaka has justified this decision by stating that it will be a temporary relocation from Cox`s Bazaar, where the camps are bursting at the seams, living conditions are unhygienic and the refugees are falling prey to human traffickers and narcotic smuggling networks.

Its intention is, to start with, relocate 70,000 Rohingya refugees particularly those given shelter after the civil disturbances in Myanmar`s Rakhine state last year.

These refugees from the two main over-populated camps at Kutapalong and Nayapara in Cox`s Bazaar district are to be shifted to Thengar Char island, which is basically a shoal that emerged from the sea only 11 years ago.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has also started soliciting international financial aid for rehabilitating these refugees in Thengar Char.

Hasina is reported to have also discussed prospects of aid for this rehabilitation project with the Chancellor Angela Merkel during her recent visit to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference. Hasina’s government has also mounted a sensitization drive with foreign missions and their representatives in Dhaka as well as with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with a view to gain international acceptability for the rehabilitation project.

Thengar Char is an island of approximately 40 square kilometre area, which was declared a reserve forest in 2013.

It is located between Sandeep and Hatia islands off the Noakhali district coast near the Megna river estuary abutting the Bay of Bengal.

The island is quite remote, to the extent that it can be reached only by a two-hour boat journey from the nearest Bangladesh mainland, though it is at a linear distance of 80 kilometres from Noakhali town.

In the diverse and dynamic coastal area where the island is situated, land erosion and subsidence are major problems, and long-term land reclamation is an essential need for viable economic activity.

This is also an area afflicted by frequent storms. There is also no mobile telephone connectivity to Thengar Char.

The general impression among authoritative international observers and agencies is that Thengar Char is afflicted by `pirates, cyclones and mud.`

Some expert agencies in Bangladesh have observed that it may take 15 to 20 years at the least to make this island effectively habitable with basic minimum services and agricultural conditions suitable for subsistence farming.

International agencies like Human Rights Watch have, however, criticized the refugee relocation decision of Bangladesh government on the ground that it would be against the will of the refugees and consequently violate Bangladesh`s obligations to uphold human rights law.

There are reports in the media that the Bangladesh government has tasked the army to help in the rehabilitation-cum-relocation process, which implies that an element of coercion or force may be involved in some contingencies

In the above-stated circumstances,some of these refugees may try to leave the place surreptitiously for other countries like Indonesia towards the east as well as to the Indian Sundarbans in the west, notwithstanding that a risky sea journey of nearly 200 kilometres would be involved to the nearest Indian coastal territory. The Government of India should not, therefore, be oblivious to such an eventuality.

In the above-mentioned backdrop, Bangladesh may be able to manage the Rohingya refugee problem only as a short-term expedient,But it is doubtful whether such an expedient will serve its long-term politico-economic and security interests, unless the basic causes of the Rohingya refugee influx into Bangladesh are dealt with.

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