Rohingya island aid plan

Shahriar Alam
MONEY MATTERS: Mohammed Shahriar Alam


BANGLADESH is not expecting much help from foreign donors as it forges ahead with plans to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited island, a state minister said last week.

The minister of state for foreign affairs, Mohammed Shahriar Alam, said last Friday (23) that Bangladesh was paying the entire roughly $280 million (£198m) to build homes and fortify the island in the Bay of Bengal from cyclones, and that it was mull­ing a formal request for international funds.

No refugees who fled a military crack­down in Myanmar would be moved there against their will, he added.

Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed the border from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August, and are in cramped camps at Cox’s Bazar. Because a repatriation deal between the neighboring countries has been delayed, Bangladesh aims to prepare new homes on the nearby island, called Bhasan Char, before the onset of seasonal monsoon rains that could come in late April.

“We don’t have a timeline because it’s a lot of money,” Alam said at Bangladesh’s UN office in New York. “We are so far building it with our own finances. I am not very hope­ful about how much funds the international community will be able to raise.”

The latest wave of refugees joined about 300,000 Rohingya already in Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest and most crowd­ed countries. A UN coordination branch has separately requested $951m (£672m) for immediate relief.

Alam brushed off as “misunderstandings” concerns raised by groups such as Amnesty International that the silt island was vulner­able to flooding. “There is absolutely no reason to be concerned because we are building an embankment,” he said.

Bangladesh sees the island as a tempo­rary arrangement for refugees but has given conflicting signals on how much freedom they would have to leave once there.

Alam said Bangladesh shared the build­ing designs with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which suggested “we engage people, countries and organisations to come help and contribute” to the cost. “We are yet to do it,” the minister said. “We haven’t de­cided on that.” (Reuters)