Head of Bangladesh’s Rohingya Relief Agency Replaced Days after Mass Rally at Refugee Camp

By Muktadir Rashid   2 September 2019

DHAKA, Bangladesh—The head of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), Dhaka’s primary agency assisting the Rohingya who fled to the country from Myanmar two years ago, has been replaced, just days after one of his deputies was transferred for allowing a Rohingya group to hold a mass gathering inside the refugee camp at Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 25.

Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Muhammad Abul Kalam was “stand released” from his post and made an “officer-on-special-duty” attached to the Textile and Jute Ministry, according to an order issued on Monday afternoon.

Mahbub Alam Talukdar, a director at the Disaster Management Directorate, will replace Abul Kalam by Sept. 5, it said.

Commenting on his reassignment, Abul Kalam claimed he had been seeking a transfer to a new post.

The move follows an order issued on Sunday night by the Bangladeshi Public Administration Ministry transferring Shamimul Hoque Pavel, an official with the rank of deputy secretary, for allowing a Rohingya group to hold the mass gathering inside the refugee camp at Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 25. The group described the occasion as a commemoration of the genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar two years ago. On Sunday, Khalilur Rahman Khan, an officer-on-special-duty at the Public Administration Ministry, was transferred to the RRRC office as the likely replacement for Pavel.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in late 2017 after the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) launched a clearance operation in northern Rakhine State against Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants who had attacked security outposts. The UN has described the clearance operation as having “genocidal intent”.

According to the RRRC, Pavel was the “camp in charge” (CIC), or chief, of the CIC Office overseeing camps 1E, 1W, 3, 4 and 4 extension. With immediate effect, he will join a project under the Commerce Ministry as a deputy director.

Pavel joined the RRRC in October 2017, just a month after the influx from Myanmar began.

Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said he was not aware of the transfer order, but told The Irrawaddy that, “Pavel [was] one of the best camp in charges… But, we are public servants and it’s a transferable job.”

Pavel was unwilling to comment on his transfer, but his wife Naffy Sah, who lived with him in Cox’s Bazar, wrote on her Facebook page, “So Pavel got transferred for allowing the mass gathering for the Rohingya people on the memorial of their genocide on 25th August 2019. The powers that be felt he was working against [the] national interest! Now he has been transferred to a World Bank project as the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Commerce?!?”

She added, “He gave a voice to one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. In this powerful moment they prayed for the dead, they healed together, their strength was perceived to be harmful. This was seen as a threat? No space for humanitarian or voluntary instincts as a civil servant in a country which was born after suffering a genocide which it commemorates each year.”

“They failed to see that they were empowered only to seek justice and their full citizenship rights in Myanmar,” she concluded.

On Aug. 22, the chairman of Ukhiya-based Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), Mohib Ullah, submitted a written application to Pavel, seeking permission to hold a peaceful gathering on Aug. 25.

In the application, he mentioned that at least 500,000 Rohingya from Kutupalong, Balukhali and Teknaf would be joining the gathering.

Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Kamal Hossain said on Sunday that they were informally told about the gathering, adding that he managed to have eight platoons of police personnel deployed to the venue to avoid any untoward incidents.

But, following the mass peaceful gathering inside the camp, a large section of the Bangladeshi media raised questions over how it was funded and how the Rohingya managed to organize it.

Bangladeshi officials interrogated Rohingya human rights defenders and peace negotiators on whether funds were arranged to hold the rally.

In a statement on Saturday, Mohib Ullah of ARSPH expressed concern over what he described as media propaganda against the displaced Rohingya community.

However, he conveyed his gratitude to the people of Bangladesh for sheltering the displaced refugees despite facing limited resources .

“We are not terrorists. Nor do we support terrorism. We are grateful that Bangladeshis are acting as our guard,” Mohib said in a message issued Saturday.

Organized under Mohib’s leadership, the Aug. 25 rally and prayer meeting was held to mark the second anniversary of the military crackdown.

He alleged that some media outlets were treating the Rohingya like terrorists after the prayer meeting, “but we do not want to be terrorists and none of us has committed any terrorism.”

He added, “We are also thankful to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for allowing us to stay and live in here for the time being.”

Note: This story was updated at 8.15 p.m. on Sept. 2 to include information on the RRRC chief’s transfer.