US urges Bangladesh to postpone Rohingya relocation

Brajesh Upadhyay, Washington
Published : 08:20, Oct 23, 2019 | Updated : 15:55, Oct 23, 2019

This photo, collected from project official Atikul Islam’s Facebook page, shows the housing project under construction at Bhasan char.The United States government has urged Bangladesh to postpone the relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char until the location is declared suitable by experts.
The call comes amid Bangladesh government’s announcement to relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees to the Bay of Bengal island in late November or in December.
At a Congressional hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia”, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells lauded Bangladesh’s decision to open the country’s doors to more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees since August 2017.
However, there are also concerns about the relocation plan as the island in the Bay of Bengal is considered vulnerable to frequent cyclones.
“Prime Minister Hasina has repeatedly reaffirmed Bangladesh’s commitment to voluntary repatriation. We urge Bangladesh to postpone any refugee relocations to Bhashan Char until independent experts can determine it is a suitable location,” said Assistant Secretary Wells.
Bhashan Char, previously known as Thengar Char, is 10,000 acres at high tide and 15,000 acres at low tide.The State department also renewed its call for Burma to create the conditions for the Rohingya’s voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation and guarantee their rights as recommended by the Annan Commission recommendations.
While the Congressional hearing was dominated by members’ concerns over alleged human rights violations in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and Assam’s National Register for Citizens (NRC), the opening statement from Assistant Secretary Wells also had segments on Bangladesh, Pakistan and other South Asian countries.
Commenting on democracy, human rights, and labor policy in Bangladesh, Ms Wells said: “We remain concerned about political freedoms in Bangladesh and the direction of the country’s democratic trajectory.”
Rohingya refugee children pose for a picture at the Balukhali camp in Cox`s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/File Photo“We continue to believe that it is critical for the Bangladesh government to allow civil society organizations to operate; for individuals and groups to be able to express their views freely, including online; and for the political opposition to play its lawful role in a democracy,” she added.
Similar concerns were raised regarding “troubling trends” within Pakistan, its blasphemy laws and treatment of minorities and those from the Ahmadiya Muslim community.
“The overall situation prompted Secretary Pompeo to designate Pakistan a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act in 2018,” said Assistant Secretary Wells.