Bangladesh Urges U.S. to Help Repatriate Rohingya Refugees

By Muktadir Rashid   4 March 2019

DHAKA — Bangladesh Disaster Management and Relief Minister Enamur Rahman on Sunday said he asked the U.S. to help find a way to repatriate the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sheltering in the country’s Cox’s Bazar District.

He said he made the request during a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, Earl Miller, in Dhaka earlier in the day.

“In the meeting I said, ‘Look, the donations or grants are not the main subject. Many days have passed. Now we want amicable repatriation with nationality rights and honor,'” Rahman told The Irrawaddy.

“We want repatriation as soon as possible with nationality rights. They will have to enjoy access to education, health, jobs and all human rights,” he added. “And I sought his opinion.”

He said the ambassador elaborated on U.S. financial support to Bangladesh and assured him Washington would help Dhaka find a way to repatriate the refugees.

In a statement, The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka said “the United States is committed to helping those affected by this crisis.  We are deeply appreciative of the generosity of the government and people of Bangladesh for opening their border and hearts to a Rohingya community that has suffered greatly.  We call on all nations with the means to contribute to this global humanitarian response.”

Rahman also said that Bangladesh still intended to move forward with a controversial plan to relocate some of the refugees to Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

“It is the prime minister’s desire to relocate them to those houses built for 23,000 families there,” he said, adding that the office of the prime minister has been meeting with the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry, UN agencies and non-government organizations about the plan.

The minister said the principal secretary of the prime minister’s office, Nojibur Rahman, and others would meet with U.N. Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo in Dhaka again on Wednesday.

“Following the meeting on March 6, a final roadmap will be drawn up on how they will be relocated,” he said.

Seppo did not respond to questions about the U.N.’s role in the relocation plan, which it has raised doubts and concerns about in the past.

In a tweet on Monday, Germany’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Fahrenholtz, said: “I assume the relocation will happen on a voluntary basis and that there would be another assessment mission by the U.N.”

The relocation camp on Bhasan Char, a designated forest reserve that lies some 30 km from the mainland, is scheduled to be finished later this year by the Bangladesh Navy.

The U.S. Embassy statement said the United States was contributing $45.5 million to the United Nations World Food Program to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. It comes on top of the $60 million the U.S. pledged at the launch of the 2019 U.N. Joint Response Plan in Geneva on Feb. 15.

The U.S. is the leading contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh, providing nearly $500 million since August 2017.

The embassy said the latest contribution will go toward food, monsoon and cyclone preparation, and nutritional support for mothers and children.