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UN, Bangladesh sign deal to aid Rohingya Muslims relocated to remote island

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A boy plays in a flooded pathway after heavy monsoon rains triggered flooding at the Kutapalong refugee camp, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The United Nations (UN) and Bangladesh's government have signed a deal to work together to aid and serve Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal, where more than 19,000 people have been relocated from over-crowded camps near Myanmar's border.

In a statement released on Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the agreement was a further expression of Bangladesh's "generosity and support toward the Rohingya population until they can return safely and sustainably to Myanmar."

The aid will "cover key areas of protection, education, skills-training, livelihoods and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for sustainable return to Myanmar in the future," the statement added.

Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the representative of the UNHCR in Bangladesh, cited a UN team who had visited the island and said Bangladesh's government had provided "significant infrastructure" to offset environmental dangers.

According to the UN representative, the agreement allows the refugees to move back and forth between the island and the main camps in Cox's Bazar, while they can earn a living through jobs that will be accessible once aid organizations start work on the island. Klaauw also noted that the relocation of refugees to the island would be on a voluntary basis.

Bangladeshi authorities have announced that another 81,000 refugees would be relocated to the island over the next three months.

The development comes as most of the Rohingya refugees are not pleased with the relocation and say life on the island is hard for them.

One of the refugees, who has lived in the island for months, said anonymously that "if people stay there for a couple of years, all of them might start having mental issues," adding that the island’s medical equipment was not proper.

The agreement marked a shift, as the UN used to criticize the relocation, saying the 30-year-old island was regularly hit by cyclones, heavy monsoon rains, floods, landslides, and other natural hazards and was not fit for habitation. However, the Bangladeshi government claims that it has spent tens of millions of dollars on the island's development, insisting that it is no more a vulnerable area.

Almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees remain stuck in squalid, crowded conditions in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar. This includes about 750,000 Rohingyas who were forced to leave Myanmar amid the military-led crackdown against their community in 2017.

Thousands were killed, raped, tortured, or arrested in the Myanmarese crackdown, perpetrated with "genocidal intent," according to the UN, which has described the community as the most persecuted minority in the world.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, saying they are nationals of Bangladesh, which in turn, says they are natives of Myanmar.

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