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Cablegate: Government Prepares to Move Rohingyas From Teknaf

VZCZCXRO3029
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1220/01 2070909
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260909Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4619
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9202
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8027
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1754
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0054
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 8095
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0849
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0536

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001220

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE/PRM FOR: EILEEN SEN; EMB BANGKOK FOR: JESSICA ADLER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PREF BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT PREPARES TO MOVE ROHINGYAS FROM TEKNAF
MAKESHIFT CAMP

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Plans to move nearly 10,000 illegal
Rohingya refugees from a makeshift camp to higher ground are
moving apace, according to representatives of the Ministry of
Food and Disaster Management. The situation in the two
official refugee camps has improved, particularly with
regards to shelters and internal camp governance. END
SUMMARY.

TEKNAF CAMP MOVE NEARLY READY
=============================

2. (SBU) In a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of
Food and Disaster Management (MFDM) on July 17, we received
an update on the government's plans to move approximately
10,000 illegal Rohingya "squatters" from a makeshift camp on
the Naf River floodplain in Teknaf, south of Cox's Bazar to
higher ground. Deputy Secretary Mohammad Ahsanul Jabbar, who
heads the MFDM Rohingya Cell, told us the new location is
seven kilometers closer to Cox's Bazar, and is safely away
from the river. The last approval they are waiting on is from
the Forestry Department, which controls the land. Jabbar said
it should be coming within the next two weeks.

3. (SBU) Once approval by the Forestry Department is granted,
the government will begin work on drainage and sanitation.
Jabbar estimates that work will take approximately one month.
He is hoping the Rohingyas can begin moving to the new
location by end-August or early September, though he admitted
it might be too optimistic.

4. (SBU) While the arrival of the monsoon season increases
the risk of the present location flooding, it also makes the
move logistically more complicated. The European Commission
has promised aid to help resettle the Rohingyas, and United
Nations (UN) agencies and non-governmental organizations like
Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) are also working closely with
the government on the move. Because this is not an
"official" Rohingya camp, UNHCR's formal role is limited, but
it is providing advice and coordinating with the government.

CLOSE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOVERNMENT, UN
=========================================

5. (SBU) The relationship between the Bangladesh government
and international organizations and NGOs is continuing to
improve, according to Jabbar. He expressed satisfaction --
even gratitude -- to the work of UNHCR in the two official
camps, and said the government is committed to working with
organizations to improve refugee conditions. He specifically
cited the new shelters being built at Kutapolong and Nayapara
camps, as well as the education and training programs being
started up.

6. (SBU) The new local MFDM representative (the Refugee
Relief and Repatriation Coordinator -- RRRC) has worked to
revamp the relationship with the local UNHCR office and to
improve internal camp governance. Jabbar acknowledged
unspecified "problems" with the previous RRRC who stepped
down in August 2006. Under the new one, the relationship
with the local UNHCR office and the camp leadership has been
"transformed."

LOCAL CAMP GOVERNANCE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE
==========================================

7. (SBU) A new "majlis" (local chiefs) system has been
introduced. Many former majlis were appointed by the old
RRRC, and were distrusted by the camp population. Some
government officials were alleged to have extracted bribes
from the old majlis, who in turn took the money from camp
residents. Under the new system, majlis are chosen either by
an informal but direct election, or with strong input by the
camp population. "We can't say corruption is no longer
present, but it is much, much less than before," according to
Jabbar.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY AN "UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS"
============================================

8. (SBU) In separate conversations, UNHCR's country
representative Pia Pritz Phiri has endorsed Jabbar and
expressed satisfaction with this new relationship with the
government. At a recent meeting, she described how UNHCR

DHAKA 00001220 002 OF 002


celebrated World Refugee Day on June 20 in the camps for the
first time. The government advisor responsible for MFDM,
Tapan Chowdhury, was present, as were several other
high-level officials. They spent time mingling with the
refugees and hearing their concerns -- something
unprecedented and "difficult to imagine" a year ago,
according to Pritz-Phiri.

COMMENT: PROGRESS CONTINUES APACE
=================================

9. (SBU) The change in heart by the government actually
started under the last government, after increased pressure
by diplomats including the Ambassador. The interim
government has taken this cooperation to new levels, however,
and demonstrated a commitment to relieving at least the
immediate humanitarian concerns that have made the Rohingya
camps among the worst refugee camps in the world, according
to the UN's own assessment.

10. (SBU) Timelines often slip in Bangladesh, however, so we
will monitor the move from Teknaf closely and keep up our
regular meetings with the government frequently to
demonstrate our continued interest in the situation.
PASI

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