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Bangladesh’s plan to relocate Rohingyas raises concerns

Bangladesh said last month it was looking to move the around 32,000 registered refugees, in part because they were hampering tourism in the coastal resort district — home to the world’s longest unbroken beach.



By (AFP)

Published: Mon 15 Jun 2015, 11:56 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:58 PM

Hatiya (Bangladesh) — The remote Bangladeshi island of Thengar Char disappears completely under several feet of water at high tide, and has no roads or flood defences.

But that hasn’t stopped the government from proposing to relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar which borders Myanmar to its marshy shores.

Bangladesh said last month it was looking to move the around 32,000 registered refugees, in part because they were hampering tourism in the coastal resort district — home to the world’s longest unbroken beach.

The proposal has been met with alarm from leaders of the Rohingya, who began arriving more than two decades ago after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, and whose desperate search for a secure homeland has recently been thrown into the spotlight by a regional smuggling crisis.

The United Nations refugee agency, which has been helping them since 1992, said a move would be “logistically challenging” — an assessment confirmed by a recent visit to the area by AFP.

Police on the neighbouring island of Hatiya prevented the boat AFP was travelling on from going to Thengar Char, saying they could not guarantee its safety.

But accounts from local people and a forest department official who oversaw the 2011 planting of mangroves on Thengar Char gave an indication of the challenges.

“At high tide the entire island is under three to four feet (about a metre) of water,” said the official.

“It is impossible to live there,” he said, comparing the plan to “compelling a guest to sit on a spiked chair after inviting him to your home”.

Low-lying Thengar Char, around 30 kilometres east of Hatiya island, only emerged from the sea around eight years ago and does not appear on Google Maps.

The 10,000-acre island is administered from Hatiya, which has a population of 600,000, but local boat operators told AFP they rarely went there.

Such a journey would in any case be impossible during the monsoon months of June to September, when the seas are perilous — and the island would be completely cut off.

The island, around two hours away from the mainland by speedboat, is in an area frequently hit by cyclones, which have killed thousands in Hatiya and Bangladesh’s southern coast in the past. — AFP


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