Bhashan Char Relocation: UN looking to plug the gaps
The UN is looking to strengthen the operations of national NGOs that have been providing support to the Rohingyas on Bhasan Char, said outgoing UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo.
"We will build on what national NGOs are doing on the island -- we can complement the critical work that is being undertaken by bringing in technical expertise, facilitating coordination between humanitarian actors, and addressing protection gaps to safeguard the Rohingya," she told The Daily Star in a recent interview.
In her four-year stay in Bangladesh, she led the UN Country Team's response to the Rohingya crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. She will soon join her new assignment in Zimbabwe.
"We are also working with the government to make sure that the next round of relocations, planned before the next monsoon season, will be peaceful. There is no need to create panic and fear."
The government has so far relocated nearly 20,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char from the crowded camps in Cox's Bazar where security concerns have risen after the killing of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah last month.
Recently, the UN signed an MoU with the government, agreeing to start operations on the island.
The "char environment" is very specific to Bangladesh and not well known or understood outside, she said. "There are millions of Bangladeshis living on chars, which is a big part of the reality of being in a delta country. How to manage the delta and provide support to its surrounding populations is an issue that has attracted a lot of attention.
"Bangladeshi NGOs that have worked with people on the chars for decades are well-placed to work in Bhasan Char."
Asked about the repatriation of the Rohingyas, Seppo said, "Right now, the situation in Myanmar is extremely worrisome with continued violence and tensions… The UN System will continue to use every tool that it can to try and restore democracy in Myanmar and create conditions conducive to voluntary, safe and sustainable return.
"The international community needs to stand with Bangladesh in trying to continue to look for solutions to the crisis. It needs to stand with Bangladesh in making sure that [the Rohingya] does not become a forgotten crisis."
Asked when the UN is planning to start its operation on the island, she said, "An assessment is currently underway that aims to identify critical gaps in the Rohingya response. There is a lot of discussion about logistics because it is much more complicated on Bhasan Char than in Cox's Bazar."
Seppo also spoke on the other aspects of its engagement in Bangladesh.
"Looking forward, it is critically important to focus on how the country recovers from the pandemic, particularly in regard to ensuring an inclusive and green recovery, addressing the gendered impacts of Covid-19, and working to mitigate the impacts of extended school closures to help safeguard and support future generations.
"Global inequality has come into sharp focus as a result of the lack of vaccine equity, with poorer countries facing supply shortages while many wealthier countries have a surplus."
Regarding the relationship between the UN and Bangladesh, Seppo said, "We have a very close and continued dialogue with the Government on a range of issues. This obviously demonstrates a good working relationship.
"What is going to be interesting in the next five to ten years is how the partnerships evolve in light of Bangladesh's LDC graduation. This needs to be a very carefully thought-through, well-researched process that looks toward a sustainable graduation.
"But it also needs to be understood that the graduation will change the partnership landscape. It changes the expectations of both the government and development partners."
Asked what makes her worried as she leaves Bangladesh, Seppo said, "I am afraid of the climate vulnerability that Bangladesh faces. It is the biggest threat to the country. And obviously there is a global responsibility towards the most climate vulnerable countries, but I think at the national level it is also the biggest issue for the country moving forward."
She also said that the country is a place for all Bangladeshis. "It is important to allow the voices of all, to allow for diversity and afford space for everybody to be able to contribute and share their ideas, thoughts, and energy into taking the country forward."
Read the full interview: