Bangladesh Probes Possible Misuse of Funds for Rohingya Refugees

By Muktadir Rashid   14 March 2019

DHAKA — The Bangladesh government on Wednesday asked intelligence agencies to look into the possible misuse of funds meant to help the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.

“I received allegations and there is also prima-facie evidence,” said Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq, who heads the government cabinet’s law and order committee, which requested the probe.

He told The Irrawaddy that the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and National Security Intelligence (NSI) were given one month to look into how the funds have been used and report back.

The DGFI is the intelligence unit of the Bangladesh Armed Forces and considered the most powerful intelligence agency in the country. The NSI is the principal intelligence agency of the state.

Law Minister Anisul Huq, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi, Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury attended Wednesday’s committee meeting along with the heads of law enforcement and intelligence agencies and others.

Huq accused some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with the Rohingya in the refugee camps of having “ill motives.”

“We have received information that NGO officials have spent 150 crore taka [$17.87 million] since September on hotel rooms in Cox’s Bazar. They spend only 25 per cent of the funds they receive from different agencies to assuage the miseries of the Rohingya,” he said.

“The chiefs of both agencies were present at the meeting and I asked them to complete their inquiries,” he added. “I will come up with evidence and disclose our findings to the public to show how funds were used, because those who donate should also know how funds are being utilized.”

Reporting on Thursday on the same committee meeting, the Dhaka-based daily New Age said the government has dismissed the U.N.’s concerns about its plans to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya from Cox’s Bazar to an uninhabited, flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

“It is an internal matter for us where we should provide accommodation for Rohingya people seeking shelter here. They [the U.N.] can talk about humanitarian issues, if any,” Huq was quoted saying.

He reportedly said the government had made all preparations to start relocating refugees, as per orders from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on Myanmar, told the U.N. Human Rights Council recently that relocating refugees to the island risked creating a “new crisis.”

“There are a number of things that remain unknown to me even following my visit, chief among them being whether the island is truly habitable,” said Lee, who visited Bhasan Char island in January.

“Ill-planned relocation and relocations without the consent of the refugees concerned have the potential to create a new crisis. It is incumbent on the government of Bangladesh to ensure that this is not brought about,” she added.

In early 2018 the government formed a 10-member committee headed by Disaster Management and Relief Ministry Additional Secretary Muhammad Mohsin to assess whether Bhasan Char was suitable for Rohingya relocation. The committee consists of five members each from the Bangladesh government and the United Nations.

In late June, the Special Branch police in Cox’s Bazar reported to the Prime Minister’s Office that about 13 percent of the Rohingya refugees were willing to be relocated to Bhasan Char. Among the main reasons most refugees gave for not wanting to move to the island was its isolation, fearing it would mean receiving less aid.

Bhasan Char is about a one-hour boat ride from Sandwip, the nearest inhabited island.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh from Myanmar since August 2017 to escape a military crackdown in northern Rakhine State, taking the total number of refugees in Cox’s Bazar to about 1.14 million.