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UN and Bangladesh work together to protect the Rohingya people

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Bangladesh has accepted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar (image by UN Women Asia Pacific via Flickr)

On 9 October 2021, the UN agreed to cooperate with Bangladesh in the Bhashan Char refugee camp for the Rohingya.

Around 19,000 Rohingya have already been relocated since December last year.

Bangladesh has taken a holistic approach from the beginning of the latest influx of Rohingya refugees since August 2017. At least 750,000 Rohingya refugees crossed the border to take refuge in the strategically important southern part of Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar, where 300,000 Rohingyas had already fled to.

To ease pressure from the clogged camps and to address the social, environmental, and security concerns, the Bangladesh Government has initiated the Bhashan Char project, spending more than $350 million. However, some groups have been critical of Bangladesh's approach. 

Despite this, it is arguable that Bangladesh's approach trumps that of the UNHCR in engaging in the Bhashan Char.

At the beginning of the relocation process, the UN and other human rights activists were sceptical about the sustainability of the island and the voluntariness of Rohingyas to be relocated there.

After a series of visits by the high officials of UNHCR, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other donor states, all of them expressed their satisfaction over the facilities in the Bhashan Char. While visiting the camp in May this year, the former United Nations General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir "highly appreciated" the efforts of Bangladesh for the Rohingyas in the Bhashan Char. 

The UNHCR, after the technical assessments, decided to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh to start the humanitarian support for the Rohingya refugees on the island. The deal is an acknowledgement and recognition of the efforts of Bangladesh; the involvement of UNHCR is a credit for the country.

Still, what are the major challenges that the UNHCR needs to address? First and foremost is the limbo of Rohingya refugees stuck in the camps of Cox’s Bazar for the last four years. The future of over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees is uncertain and aid dependency is not a solution to the complex Rohingya crisis.

Most importantly, every year tens of thousands of Rohingya children have been added to the number who will face a serious identity crisis in the future. The Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh due to fear of persecution will return whenever there is a suitable environment for repatriation.

But what about the newborn Rohingya children who are being raised in refugeehood and deprived of formal education? The social and mental issues of the forcibly displaced cannot also be ignored in any way.

In this regard, the UN engagements in the Bhashan Char will help to ensure better:

'... protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods, and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for sustainable return to Myanmar in the future.'

The involvement of the UNHCR in the Bhashan Char is commendable, albeit late. It will enhance the living conditions of forcibly displaced Rohingya communities residing there. However, the long-term solution to this crisis is the safe return of the Rohingyas where safe and possible to do so.  

Shaikh Abdur Rahman is a research assistant at Central Foundation for International Strategic Studies based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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