Recent Visits of Ambassadors to Bhasan Char: Outcomes and Implications

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As a recent development, a team of ambassadors hailing from Japan, China, France, and Indonesia, presently stationed in Bangladesh, undertook a visit to Bhasan Char located in Hatia, Noakhali, with the intent of examining the prevailing living conditions of the Rohingya there. This excursion, which occurred on Feb. 17, Friday, was arranged by the Bangladeshi administration and entailed deliberations with the refugees regarding their standard of living, the amenities available to them, and other pertinent matters. The delegation, led by Bangladeshi officials, expended several hours on the island to gauge the general situation. Markedly, the Chinese Ambassador Yao Wen, the French Ambassador Marie Masdupuy, the Indonesian Ambassador Heru Hartanto Subolo, and the Japanese Ambassador Iwama Kiminori were present. All the four countries have extensively supported Bangladesh in different forums with different tools to resolve the Rohingya crisis. This visit is the continuation of those arrangements. With this Bangladesh got the baton to raise her voice in different international forums for the safe, sustainable, and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya community.

However, commencing in December 2020, the government of Bangladesh has overseen the transfer of almost thirty thousand Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, a secluded silt island situated in the Bay of Bengal, from Ukhia and Teknaf. Besides, in 2022, a cohort of ten diplomats graced the island of Hatiya, Noakhali with their presence, among them, being the Ambassador of the European Union to Bangladesh, and the South Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh. The aforementioned individuals were accompanied by the Canadian High Commissioner, the German Ambassador, the Swedish envoy, the Norwegian Ambassador, the Danish Ambassador and the Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy.

Moreover, in the month of February in 2023, the Belgian queen, Mathilde Marie Christine Ghislaine, graced the Rohingya camp-3 in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar with her august presence. In 2021, the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioners for Protection and Operations, also paid a visit to the camp. Also, the location has hosted high-ranking UN representatives on various occasions. In addition, to the aforementioned delegation of ambassadors, the visit to Bhasan Char in Hatia, Noakhali, Bangladesh, featured the attendance of key representatives from the United Nations — the United Nations resident coordinator, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the officer in charge of the World Food Program. Their presence was consequential insofar as they played a pivotal role in the analysis and evaluation of the living conditions of the Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge on the island. The recent visit is a continuation of the approach by the international community.

The visit, by a delegation of ambassadors and United Nations representatives, occurs against the backdrop of mounting apprehension regarding the living circumstances of Rohingya refugees on the island. The delegation’s feedback is expected to hold significant weight as ongoing deliberations about the matter persist. This will bring some more facilities for Bangladesh since all the four countries have significance in different forums.

The visit can help to strengthen the flow of funds to support the Rohingya refugees. The crisis has received significant funding from international organizations and donor countries, but more needs to be done to provide the necessary support. On November 24, 2022, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of the United Nations announced the release of USD 9 million to assist the over 943,000 Rohingya refugees residing in camps in the Cox’s Bazar district and on the island of Bhasan Char, as well as the over 17,800 locals in Ukhiya and Teknaf who are hosting them. With this money going to six UN organizations—the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the UN Women—refugees will be able to receive life-saving aid and help create an environment that is supportive of their rights and well-being. Foreign delegates can work with these organizations and countries to ensure that the funding is being used effectively and efficiently. They can also push for increased funding to support the refugees and the host communities in Bangladesh.

The Bhasan Char project for the Rohingya community in Bangladesh is a significant effort on the part of the government to provide for the basic needs of the refugees and treat them with dignity. The project is designed to relocate Rohingya refugees from camps in Cox’s Bazar to a new island called Bhasan Char, which has been specifically developed to withstand natural disasters and provide a safe and sustainable living environment for the community. The government has already begun a process of voluntary relocation of the Rohingya community to Bhasan Char. The process involves providing information and education about the island to refugees, as well as transportation and support during the relocation process. The government has stated that relocation is entirely voluntary, and refugees who choose to remain in Cox’s Bazar will continue to receive support from the government. This message will be further exemplified by the visit.

The island has been equipped with essential facilities such as housing, schools, hospitals, and community centers. The government has also developed an extensive agricultural program on the island, with the goal of making it self-sufficient in terms of food production. The visit will support international donors with the four countries to participate in the process since they are economically viable to go for funding.

In addition to providing for the basic needs of the Rohingya community, the government has also made efforts to ensure their social and cultural well-being. The island has a mosque and madrasa for religious education, as well as community centers for social gatherings and events. The government has also facilitated cultural events and celebrations on the island, such as the Eid al-Fitr festival. Indonesia, being a Muslim majority state may convey this message to other OIC member states which will give clarity to Bangladesh’s efforts. Besides, in the ICJ proceedings Bangladesh can facilitate in a robust way to gain a positive outcome of Gambia.

The government of Bangladesh has also worked with international organizations and aid agencies to support the needs of the Rohingya community. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with the government to provide training and livelihood support to the community, with the goal of enabling them to become self-sufficient and economically independent. Japan in this particular domain can be a handy friend since it has a fair share in international organizations in terms of financing.

Foreign delegates visiting Rohingya camps can play a crucial role in addressing the crisis. Their visit can draw international attention to the issue and put pressure on governments and international organizations to take action. It can also help to identify areas where improvements can be made and push for solutions that will improve the lives of the refugees and support their repatriation to Myanmar.

One of the most significant benefits of foreign delegates visiting Rohingya camps is the international attention it brings to the crisis. The Rohingya crisis has received widespread media coverage, but the visit of high-profile foreign delegates can bring the issue to a broader audience. It can also put pressure on governments and international organizations to take action and provide support to the refugees and the host communities.

The delegates visit will be used to influence respective parties for the repatriation of the Rohingya to their homeland in Myanmar. The repatriation process has been slow and fraught with challenges, but the visit of foreign delegates can push for progress. They can engage with local and national governments and international organizations to push for a solution to the crisis. They can also raise awareness of the conditions in Myanmar and the need for a safe and dignified return for the Rohingya.

The visit of the four ambassadors to Rohingya camps can play a critical role in addressing the Rohingya crisis. Their visit can draw international attention to the issue, advocate for the repatriation of the Rohingya, improve living conditions, strengthen the flow of funds, and address the root causes of the conflict. The crisis is complex and requires a multifaceted approach, but the visit of foreign delegates is a crucial step in the right direction. It is essential to continue to push for progress, support the refugees and the host communities, and work towards a sustainable solution. The influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has created a significant burden on the country’s resources, infrastructure, and economy. The Bangladesh government has provided shelter, food, and other assistance to the refugees, but the scale of the crisis is enormous, and more needs to be done to support the refugees and the host communities.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, he served as a Research Assistant at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and International Republican Institute (IRI).

Published in The Geopolitics [Link] and Modern Diplomacy [Link]