PM returns home from UK tomorrow

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to return home tomorrow wrapping up her 10-day official visit to the United Kingdom (UK). A VVIP flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying the prime minister and her entourage members will depart Heathrow International Airport in London for Dhaka at 6pm (local time) today, PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim said yesterday.

The flight is scheduled to reach Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka in the morning on Saturday. The prime minister arrived in London on May 1 on an official visit to the UK.

PM’s Private Industry and Investment Advisor Salman F Rahman and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam, among others, are accompanying the prime minister during her visit.

Envoy: Bangladesh set to see more Japanese entrepreneurs

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Japanese Ambassador in Dhaka Hiroyasu Izumi has said the Special Economic Zone for Japanese investors in Bangladesh—and the One Stop Service Act—are likely to attract more Japanese companies; especially in the fields of: food, commodity products, light industry, and ICT.

“Since the year 2008, the investment from Japan to Bangladesh has been expanding and the trend is getting stronger, especially after 2011,” he told UNB in an interview.

This trend, Ambassador Izumi said, is likely to continue for the coming years; considering the competitive labour force and the size of the market of Bangladesh with its large, young population.

He, however, said the investment climate and doing business in Bangladesh “are not very favourable” for foreign companies.

The time-consuming process of applying to launch businesses and registration, as well as a lack of sufficient infrastructure, an intricate process of applying for work visas, and a complicated tax system— including retroactive taxation—could be named as the main bottlenecks to start businesses in Bangladesh, he said.

In particular, Ambassador Izumi said, the insufficiencies in logistics and taxation systems, such as “too-heavy tariffs,” need to be addressed.

“They are not only the hindrances for FDI from Japan but also cause drawbacks to the growth of the local economy in Bangladesh,” he said.

Analysing the current situation of the foreign companies, and listening to their requests, are essential to make the overall investment environment more attractive, said Ambassador Izumi.

Responding to a question, the Japanese envoy said that surrounded on all sides by the sea, Japan is also deeply rooted in the blue economy and has a long history of using marine resources.

“I, therefore, believe Japan and Bangladesh can exchange knowledge and expertise in blue economy and marine resources,” he said.

A conference was co-organised in March by the Ministry of Fisheries & Livestock and Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the envoy said adding, “‘Bangladesh Blue Economy Dialogue on Fisheries and Marine Culture’” was quite suggestive and meaningful.”

“We would like to consider future cooperation in the field of blue economy with the government of Bangladesh,” said the Ambassador.

When asked about Bangladesh’s exports to Japan, he said in Japan they are seeing more and more clothes manufactured in Bangladesh, but Japanese people are not very aware that they are made in Bangladesh.

“To further encourage exports from Bangladesh to Japan, I believe it is very important for Bangladesh’s companies to conduct thorough market research in Japan, especially focusing on the quality-oriented tendency of the Japanese consumers,” said the Japanese envoy.

Other potential exports from Bangladesh to Japan, he thinks, could be medicine, leather goods or agricultural (marine) products.

“For any product, however, creating additional value that attracts Japanese consumer is the key to expand and boost exports to Japan from Bangladesh,” said the Ambassador.

To do so, he suggested having more opportunities to introduce Bangladeshi products in Japan, such as organising trade fairs or exhibitions, to make them familiar to Japanese consumers.

Responding to a question on people-to-people contact, he said friendship between Japan and Bangladesh started immediately after the independence of Bangladesh. “Since then, the two nations have always been very close friends.”

For example, the Ambassador said, Japan has provided scholarships for more than 4,000 Bangladeshi students over decades.

Last year, more than 120 students received this scholarship and went to Japan from Bangladesh. Also in the field of business, there are currently more than 260 Japanese companies operating their businesses in Bangladesh, and interaction through business is also growing rapidly.

Dhaka, Tokyo plan big for 2022

The year 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan.

“The coming years will be very important for our two countries. Toward this anniversary, we are working hard to enhance our bilateral relations even further,” said the Japanese Ambassador.

In celebration of this anniversary, Bangladesh and Japan are expecting to see more and more interaction between the two countries, including cultural and people-to-people exchanges in the years to come.

The Ambassador said several cooperation projects were launched with the successful mutual visits by the two Prime Ministers— Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—in 2014.

“Apart from bridges, we are working on other projects like the Dhaka International Airport Terminal, Dhaka Metro lines, and Matarbari port and power plant, and all these projects are going well as planned with high quality. It is my tremendous joy to celebrate this anniversary with the people of Bangladesh based on this ever-growing relationship,” he said.

Since his arrival in 2017, Ambassador Izumi said he has been witnessing an increasing number of visits both at ministerial and other levels. “I expect our bilateral relationship to grow even closer and stronger in the years to come.”

He said Japan has been the single biggest bilateral development partner for Bangladesh and the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Bangladesh from Japan last year marked $1.8 billion.

“This figure was a record, the largest-ever Japanese ODA support to Bangladesh for one year. I am pleased to inform you that Bangladesh is now the second-largest recipient of Japan’s ODA in the world,” he said.

Premier foreign player participation to enhance Bangladesh Premier League

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The Bangladesh Premier League is all set to begin from January 5 and people from across the globe are expected to tune in. This comes after the seven teams participating in the tournament have displayed the weight of their wallets and roped in some mammoths of international cricket.
Reigning champions Rangpur Riders will feature Chris Gayle (West Indies), AB de Villiers (South Africa), and Alex hales (England). Other names include Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik from Pakistan with West Indians Sunil Narine, Carlos Brathwaite, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, Sheldon Cottrell, and Evin Lewis.
Talking about the long list of players, Australian players David Warner and Steve Smith will mark their return on the pitch after one year, following the ball tampering scandal. While the former will play for Sylhet Sixers, latter will feature in Comilla Victorians. The two teams will play against each other on Sunday. This edition of BPL also features the return of Bangladesh’s Mohammad Ashraful after a five-year suspension.
David Warner said, “You look at the names in some of the other teams. They are not just here to watch me. I am just excited to be here and be a part of it. At the moment, the BPL is starting against the BBL, at home. After this you have the Pakistan Super League and Indian Premier League. Most players tell me that this is definitely up there with the best.”
The past editions of BPL have showcased a level of competition from its Australian counterpart, The Big Bash League (BBL), and 2019 is no different. Afghan superstar Rashid Khan, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, and England’s Josh Butler have elected play BBL instead of BPL. However, Warner’s dressing room will feature AB de Villiers and Sandeep Lamichhane, a Nepalese spinner. Both cricketers have preferred to play the Bangladeshi league.
Reiterating the money involved, salary limit for foreign players is fixed at $200,000. However, most of them have negotiated non draft individual deals, which has no limit. Though winning prize money is $240,000, commercial avenues are expected to yield good returns to every team.
The tournament starts on January 5, 2019 and will have 42 matches in total. Top four teams will qualify for the semis and the final game of this year’s BPL will be held on February 8, 2019. The dates will allow Australian players to return home, if needed for next series practice.

Bangladesh-Bhutan to sign SOP for trade promotion

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In an attempt to strengthen bilateral trade and daily commercial movement of vehicles, Bangladesh is going to sign a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) with Bhutan. Sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that the opinion of multiple ministries and their divisions was taken into consideration before finalizing on the SOP.
As reported by The Independent, a senior official said that the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a draft SOP to its Bangladeshi counterpart for approval. He said, “After receiving the draft SOP, the ministry of foreign affairs sent it to different ministries and divisions for seeking their opinion.”
The official added, “The draft SOP would be signed as per the memorandum of understanding on use of inland waterways for transportation of bilateral trade and transit cargoes between Bangladesh and Bhutan that was signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Thimphu last year.”
The transportation routes mentioned in the draft SOP include three distinctive ones: Mongla-Kawkhali-Barishal-Chandpur-Mawa, Aricha-Sirajganj-Chilmari-Daikhawa, and Chattogram-Chandpur-Mawa-Aricha-Sirajganj-Chilmari-Saikhawa. The document also includes a possible use of water, rail and road transport, subject to convenience. In order to divide the route load, sea ports like Narayanganj Port etc., will also be used.
According to the SOP, Bangladesh will decide on the fees and charges associated with the use of river port facilities and coastal ports aligned with domestic and international laws. This comes after the draft SOP’s primary objective of enhancing cross country commerce and trade, ensuring efficiency, credibility, accuracy, and transparency.
Samdrup Jongkhar, Gelegphug, Sarpang, Phuentshoking and Samtse in Bhutan and Monglahat, Noonkhawa, Daikhwa, Nakugaon, Haluaghat, Banglabandha, Burimari, Tamabil, Narayanganj, Gobrakurakoraitoli, Mongla seaport and Chattoagram seaport in Bangladesh will be the respective entry and exit points for cargo vessel’s crew members, as mentioned in the draft SOP.
The draft further emphasized that all the crew members on cargo vessels need to carry certain documents for hassle free entry in the contracting countries. This includes an authority reviewed permit with the individual’s photograph, passport/visa or employment certificate, and identity cards issued by concerned authorities of Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Audio leak grills BNP leader on his alleged ISI connection

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Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and retired army Major Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain is facing sedition charges as an audio leak has surfaced, featuring his alleged ties with Pakistan’s ISI. The audio leak suggests that the BNP leader is planning to sabotage the 2018 General elections, which are set be help on December 30.
The leak is available on YouTube, and is being scrutinized by the common people and the authorities for authenticity. Major Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain says that the leak is fake, but Mohammad Ali Sumon, the chairman of Daudkandi Upazila Parishad, has filed a case against the BNP leader.
In the case, Mohammad Ali Sumon alleges that Mosharraf Hossain is in contact with Mehmood, a Dubai-based ISI operative. Ali has urged the police to take necessary actions and find out more about Hossain’s Pakistani connection.
The police, however, will need approval from the home ministry to proceed. Daudkandi police chief Alamgir Hossain said that they are preparing to send the case to top brass.
Mosharraf Hossain will be contesting the 2018 elections as a BNP candidate for the seats of Comilla-1 and 2. Mohammad Ali Sumon, on the other hand, is the son of Subid Ali Bhuiyan, the Awami League candidate from Comilla-1.
Awami League leaders have long been complaining that the leaders from BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami were ‘hatching a plot’ with the Pakistan intelligence agency. Now they have found the audio clip as evidence.
In the audio, ‘Mosharraf Hossain’ is purportedly saying, “You know we’re really in crisis. I have several cases. And with excuse of one case my passport is seized. I cannot go out of the country. This is my position.”
In another part of the audio file, the man thought to be Mosharraf Hossain is saying, “I am still what you think. But practical connection or communication is impossible for me. To come out, I know that would be fruitful.” He adds, “What I want to mean is I will meet your man here so you can get the message. But now what I like to request you that from your side if you can cooperate with China, that will be useful before the election.”
Television channels are featuring this news round the clock as BNP is thought to be a nationalist party that values the country’s independence fiercely. The shocking revelation will immensely affect BNP in the upcoming elections.

World Bank approves development operation for Bangladesh job sector

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On Thursday, The World Bank approved a $250 million development policy operation in an attempt to help the Bangladeshi government increase the number, quality, and pay scale of jobs. This comes after the disproportionate nature of the country’s economic growth and corresponding employment generation.
Qimiao Fan, Director of World Bank Country for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal said, “Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in accelerating growth and reducing poverty, but the rate of job creation has not kept up with economic growth. Creating more and better jobs is a prerequisite for the country to achieve its vision of upper-middle income status.”
According to The World Bank, the objective of Programmatic Jobs Development Policy Credit is to help Bangladesh establish a stronger policy and institutional structure. This would act instrumental in overcoming the predominant hurdles and consequently, generate better quality jobs for youth and women.
“This will require the economy to create jobs for the 2.2 million youths entering the labor force each year, while attracting more women into the labor market. This program supports reforms to stimulate trade and private sector investment, strengthen social protection for workers and help the vulnerable population access jobs,” added Fan.
The program is expected to target multiple age groups of employment sector in an individual manner. For instance, enhancement of childcare services would promote the essence of participation from mothers while simultaneously encouraging other women. Similarly, skill development and work protection will be the primary targets of the program. The expected ways to achieve this include improvements in labor law, ease of doing business, pensions, and trade facilities.
Thomas Farole, World Bank Lead Economist and Task Team Leader commented, ““This program seeks to increase investments in labor-intensive activities, improve the quality of jobs, strengthen resilience to shocks, and ensure that women, youth, and migrants access job opportunities.”
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh’s IDA program is the largest with $12.2 billion. The credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has to be paid within 30 years, including a half-decade grace.

Japan’s investment prospect in Bangladesh

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On Tuesday, Bangladesh ambassador to Japan Rabab Fatima spoke about the investment and business opportunities in Bangladesh. She highlighted the future prospects to investors and businesspersons of Nagoya while addressing a seminar held at Nagoya Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI). Nagoya, apart from being the fourth largest city of the country, is the automobile hub of Japan.
The seminar was organized by the Bangladesh embassy in Tokyo with the objective of increasing awareness among the entrepreneurs of Nagoya regarding the ease of doing business environment of Bangladesh. The event registered more than 80 business representatives of Nagoya as it was organized in collaboration with Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), Nagoya Chamber of Commerce, and Nagoya City Office.
Ambassador Fatima highlighted the overall as well as individual growth of Bangladeshi sectors in the last decade and thanked Japan for its support towards the development of Bangladesh. She also shed light on the role and contribution of women in the industrial development along with other factors as the country’s efforts to achieve Vision 2021 and to become a developed country by 2041. Takashi Kawamura, Mayor of Nagoya City welcomed the participants and guests at the seminar supported by Japan-Bangladesh Committee for Commercial and Economic Co-operation (JBCCEC), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
Talking about Japan’s involvement in the event, Masumi Okamoto, the representative of JICA explained the company’s projects in Bangladesh and described the current economic conditions. While Tsutomu Hashimoto of Sumitomo Corporation described the company’s business experience in Bangladesh, senior vice president of Bangladesh Honda Pvt Ltd (BHL), Kazuya Hashi elaborated the company’s expansion process in the country. Furthermore, the opportunities, risks, and facilities associated with doing business in Banlgadesh were explained with the help of a presentation given by the representative of JETRO, Dhaka, Taiki Koga.
A short documentary on Bangladesh’s economic advancement was screened during the fifth development and investment seminar organized by the Bangladesh embassy in this year.

Bangladesh receives record inflow $1.95bn remittances in May

Expatriate Bangladeshis have sent a record amount of remittance home in May ahead of the Eid-ul-Fitr.

They sent $1.95 billion in inward remittances to Bangladesh, a new monthly record, according to the central bank.

The previous record was set in January of this year, when the country raked in $1.59 billion in remittances.

Bangladesh Bank spokesman Sirajul Islam told bdnews24.com, “The inflow of remittances was good as it was. However, with Ramadan and Eid in mind, they (migrant Bangladeshis) are sending in more money for their loved ones. The amount of remittances has grown as a result.”

Bangladesh import duty hike hits an already tottering Bengal rice market

The rice economy of West Bengal, already stifled by lack of demand, is now facing further threat from loss of import market in Bangladesh.

Last year, Bangladesh imposed a 28 per cent import duty on rice from India, against two per cent earlier. This led to massive fall of non-basmati rice exports from India to Bangladesh, by about Rs 3,278 crore in value. Data from APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) shows that non-basmati exports from India to Bangladesh fell from about 1.7 million tonnes worth Rs 4,463 crore, in April-February 2017-18 to 420,000 tonnes (Rs 1,186 crore) in the same period this financial year.

Rice mills in West Bengal are already suffering heavy losses due to the drastic fall in exports to Bangladesh, which was one of the major markets for the state.

West Bengal produces 15 million tonnes of non-basmati rice (parboiled rice) every year.

Of this, the state government procures about 3.5 million tonnes through the levy mechanism. Earlier, West Bengal used to export about three to four million tonnes of rice to Bangladesh every year.

According to Sushil Kumar Choudhury President, Bengal Rice Mills Association, about 90 per cent of rice mills in West Bengal are not economically viable. The association has also made a written plea to the government, seeking reduction of import duty imposed by Bangladesh.

“Rice millers are bearing a loss of about Rs 220 a quintal for milling paddy procured through government levy mechanism, as the cost of milling and transportation exceeds the money paid by the government. Further, the export market has been wiped out due to massive import duty hike by Bangladesh,” Choudhury said.

More than 100 rice mills have shut down in the last few years, he said.

West Bengal mainly produces parboiled rice, but its consumption has declined substantially over the years, as rising incomes have led a demand shift towards better quality rice.

In the rural areas, the key market for parboiled rice, demand from open market has shrunk because of wide availability of rice at Rs 2 per kg under government subsidy schemes.

Data from the NSSO survey on household consumption suggests between 2004-05 and 2011-12, the monthly per capita consumption of rice in urban areas shrank from 6.77 kg to 6.24 kg.

Non Basmati Rice export from India to Bangladesh

Amount (MT) Value (Rs cr)
2018-19 (April-February) 421986.84 1185.19
2017-18 (April-February) 17,01,709.28 4,463.08

PM advisor plans to make Bangladesh a developed country by 2041

Development efforts inspired by the German decentralization approach are underway for the comprehensive growth of Bangladesh; Salman F Rahman is hopeful the country will achieve target by 2041

Bangladesh’s development in the last decade has been a quintessential success story, credits to the good governance, exports, and their combined impact on the economic rise during the tenure. Although going at a reasonable pace, Bangladesh is in need of a development model similar to Germany that can bring about an “inclusive, sustainable and resilient” approach, said Manmohan Prakash, the Bangladesh Director of Asia Development Bank, at a seminar on ’spreading equitable development in the country’.

Supporting this notion, Salman F Rahman, the private sector industry and investment advisor to PM Sheikh Hasina, said “Our prime minister has already mentioned that every village will be turned into a city. That’s exactly what the German model is — you are going to take away the concentration from cities …you urbanize the whole country.”

And while this is in consideration, it is important to factor in the differences between the two countries, their goals, and subsequent feasible timeline. For instance, Germany practices a decentralized approach in its industries as well as society, but it took them nearly 200 years. Embracing their style of demography and industrial development, Salman F Rahman added, “The process has already started. We have to do much faster than that (200 years). Our target is to be a developed country by 2041.”

Adoption of a decentralized model is likely to be a valuable addition to the country’s development approach. Major impact of this model will reflect on the newfangled sources of growth and thereby, leading to an increase in the economy. This comes after the fact that the model focuses on expanding small and medium enterprise financing, infrastructural development, digitalization, and empowering education – factors on which Bangladesh has been slowly progressing. However, this calls for an in-depth understanding of the model with specific plans for industrial improvement.

Furthermore, Salman F Rahman highlighted the government’s ongoing efforts of building 100 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for better investment and employment generation. Combine this with the introduction of policy amendments, improved financial accessibility, and enhanced skill development, the government and ministries of Bangladesh could accomplish the required acceleration to achieve the envisioned global stance of a developed country.

Salman F Rahman is the elected parliamentarian from Dohar and Nawabganj constitution and also vice chairman of country’s largest private sector company, Beximco Group.


In Bangladesh, Reimagining What a Mosque Might Be

THE AMBER DENIM mosque sits at the back of a factory compound deep in the industrial sprawl north of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s frenetic capital (population: more than 18 million). Its walls are a Tetris grid of concrete blocks that recess in tiers toward open centers, like molds for tiny Aztec pyramids. Pipes left over from a plumbing job serve as pillars. Steel struts branch upward toward the 18-foot roof like the skeletons of umbrellas open against a monsoon. On a hot spring morning, the punishing deltaic sun bounces off the shallow moat that surrounds the structure, drifting over the concrete.

The mosque, completed in 2016, was the second project by the seven-year-old Dhaka firm Archeground to be built at the Amber Denim garment factory, which produces reams of fabric for the garment manufacturers that are the engine of Bangladesh’s new economy. A year earlier, the firm had constructed an open-air loom shed of bamboo, concrete and the same repurposed pipes that would be used in the prayer hall: It was an affordable prototype for humane industrial architecture in a nation plagued by deplorable, sometimes fatal working conditions. The loom shed originally contained a small prayer hall at its western end, but the weavers complained that the clacking from the looms disrupted their prayers, and so Jubair Hasan, 39, one of Archeground’s principals, approached the factory’s owner for another patch of land on which they could build a mosque. “We wanted to create a prayer space that would be connected to our climate,” Hasan says. “So there are no windows, no doors. Light comes in from all sides.” Since its completion, Hasan has encouraged the 1,500 employees who work, and in some cases live, on the compound to make their own adjustments by, say, fashioning bamboo curtains to block cold morning air in the winter. “Really, the people are making their own mosque,” he says.

Cyclone Fani Hits Bangladesh, Killing 5; Evacuations Prevent More Casualties

The most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh in years tore into the country over the weekend, uprooting trees, destroying thousands of homes and killing five people, but spared this crowded nation from worse damage.

G.M. Abdul Quader, the joint secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said the authorities had prepared aggressively for the storm, Cyclone Fani, which barreled up the Bay of Bengal with wind speeds of 120 miles per hour.

As in neighboring India, where the storm made landfall on Friday before heading northeast, in Bangladesh thousands of volunteers had woven through villages with megaphones, warning people about the impending storm’s dangers and urging them to move to shelters. Both countries also sent extensive text messages to the tens of millions of people in the cyclone’s path.

Though devastating for many farming communities, the damage was still remarkably low. Just 20 years ago, thousands of people were killed when a cyclone of similar size struck Odisha, a poor coastal Indian state that also bore the brunt of Cyclone Fani.

Since then, the authorities in India and Bangladesh, which is geographically especially prone to storms, have prepared for such natural disasters by drafting meticulous evacuation plans and building hundreds of shelters.

Apart from the five fatalities in Bangladesh, several hundred people were injured. Part of a dam crumbled in the remote coastal district of Patuakhali, flooding villages, killing cattle and destroying wells and thousands of acres of crops. On local television channels, families picked through tin shacks obliterated by the wind and rain.

Indian officials in Odisha were busy over the weekend clearing debris with power saws and trying to restore full electricity to the state. Bishnupada Sethi, the special relief commissioner, said 34 people had been killed in India, probably all by falling trees.

Source

Rohingya camps in Bangladesh spawn a new civil society — and political violence

It was after Mohib Ullah scored his first political victories that the death threats began in earnest. On a recent morning, the Rohingya refugee leaned back on a plastic chair in the Bangladesh camp where he lives and translated the latest warning, sent over the WhatsApp messaging app.

“Mohib Ullah is a virus of the community,” he read aloud, with a wry chuckle. “Kill him wherever he is found.”

The 44-year-old leads the largest of several community groups to emerge since more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar after a military crackdown in August 2017.

In the refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, a nascent civil society is emerging among the Rohingya, who spent decades under apartheid-like restrictions in Myanmar.

Some campaigners are seeking justice for alleged atrocities in Myanmar, a small cadre of women are raising their voices for the first time, and others are simply working to improve life in the new city of tarpaulins and bamboo that, after the latest influx, is home to more than 900,000 people.

Mohib Ullah himself was invited to Geneva last month, where he told the United Nations Human Rights Council the Rohingya want a say over their own future.

But the political awakening has been accompanied by a surge in violence, with militants and religious conservatives also vying for power, more than a dozen refugees said. They described increasing fear in the camps, where armed men have stormed shelters at night, kidnapped critics and warned women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which sparked the 2017 crisis with attacks on security posts, is resurgent in the camps, refugees say, alongside several other armed groups. The group is also known as Harakah al-Yaqin — the Movement of Faith.

“In the daytime, the al-Yaqin guys become normal people,” said one young woman, who like other refugees requested anonymity to speak about the group without fear of reprisals. “They mix with everyone else. But at night it’s like they have a kind of magical power.”

Dialogue and threats
Reuters conducted dozens of interviews with U.N. staffers, diplomats, Bangladeshi officials and researchers about the forces competing for influence in the world’s largest refugee settlement.

While some are hopeful the stateless Rohingya are beginning to find a political voice, there are also fears that a turn to violence threatens to make solving the refugee crisis through dialogue impossible and could bring more instability.

“Refugee camps in many parts of the world are becoming recruitment grounds for terrorists,” said Mozammel Haque, the head of Bangladesh’s Cabinet committee on law and order. “God forbid, if something like that happens, this will not only affect Bangladesh but the whole region.”

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment. Zaw Htay said during a news conference in January that Myanmar had complained to Bangladesh over what he said were ARSA bases inside Bangladesh.

The front line in the struggle for the Rohingyas’ future is the bamboo huts where refugees take shelter from the heat and dust of the camp to voice their views. In the makeshift office of his group, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), Mohib Ullah convenes an open meeting each morning.

“We couldn’t gather more than five people in Myanmar, so when we have this kind of huge gathering it makes us very happy,” said 57-year-old Abdul Fayez, one of several dozen refugees gathered cross-legged on the floor at a recent meeting.

ARSPH made its name documenting alleged atrocities the Rohingya suffered in Myanmar. Mohib Ullah went from hut to hut to build a tally of killings, rape and arson that has been shared with international investigators.

Last year it won a victory with a campaign for the refugees to have more say in the process of issuing identity cards, calling a general strike in the camps in November that forced Bangladeshi officials and U.N. staffers to meet ARSPH leaders.

It now says its main goal is to give the Rohingya a voice in international talks on their future.

But not everyone agrees with ARSPH’s approach. Hard-liners in the camps argue for a more assertive stance in talks on the terms under which the refugees might return to Myanmar.

“We are flexible, we want to negotiate,” said a senior leader of ARSPH, who requested anonymity. “But we fear we may be harmed because of this.” ARSA was among Mohib Ullah and ARSPH’s antagonists, the leader said.

Mohib Ullah was involved in local politics back in Myanmar, drawing accusations from opponents that he worked too closely with the hated government. “If I die, I’m fine. I will give my life,” Mohib Ullah said.

Night terrors
Bangladesh security forces patrol the perimeter of the camps to stop refugees slipping out. But, especially at night, the warren-like interior is run by violent men, refugees said.

In at least some parts of the camps, those men claim affiliation to ARSA, said more than half a dozen refugees. U.N. officials and nongovernmental organization workers monitoring the group’s activities say it is unclear how many of those men are under orders from the group’s leadership. But some of them have asked wealthier refugees and shopkeepers to pay regular taxes, saying the money will be used to fight back in Myanmar, refugees said.

One refugee, who volunteers as an aid worker in the camps, said he had witnessed a kidnapping in January by men he believed to be from ARSA.

Men with wooden sticks moved swiftly into an area of the camps known as Jamtoli and took away a man who refused to attend one of the group’s meetings, he said. “They just carried him off like a goat to the slaughter.”

Reuters was unable to corroborate the incident or find out what happened to the man, but five refugees from the same area said men they knew had been involved in ARSA attacks inside Myanmar were now involved in kidnappings in Jamtoli.

Reuters was unable to reach ARSA for comment.

Researchers for Fortify Rights have also gathered testimony that ARSA had abducted at least five Rohingya refugees in recent months, the campaign group said on March 14.

A posting from a Twitter account previously used by the group called the Fortify Rights report “shallow, shoddy, and not aptly verified” and denied allegations that ARSA was involved in criminal activity.

Police have recorded an escalation in violence in the camps in recent months, said Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar.

“So far we have not found any link to any militant groups,” said Hossain, adding there were just 992 officers policing the camps.

In response to questions about reports of ARSA involvement in the violence, the U.N. refugee agency cited police reports that found most violence and threats in the camps were carried out by “criminal elements or related to personal vendettas.”

Two U.N. officials and several researchers working regularly in the camps said ARSA was behind at least some of the violence, however, citing sources among the refugees.

‘You didn’t listen’
ARSA launched three attacks across the border in Myanmar early this year, according to state media there, and in February vowed to continue its armed campaign.

ARSA propaganda portrays the group as ethnic freedom fighters and does not emphasize a religious agenda. But some refugees and a report by an international NGO say its members, together with Islamic leaders, have promoted ultraconservative religious practices.

Four women said they had received threats for going out to work for aid groups in the camps, where many have begun doing paid work for the first time in their lives.

They said men from ARSA, backed up by religious leaders, issued the threats. Fortify Rights also said it had gathered testimony linking ARSA to the threats against women working. ARSA on Twitter denied that, insisting it “has no activities/objectives except for defending Rohingyas’ legitimate rights.”

U.N. officials and aid workers discussed the threats at a series of meetings of the “protection sector working group” in Cox’s Bazar, according to minutes.

“There is a complex combination of factors that have contributed to the threats and restrictions on women in refugee camps, which we are all seeking to address,” the U.N. refugee agency said.

Mohammed Kamruzzaman, an education sector specialist at Bangladeshi aid group BRAC, said 150 of its female teachers had stopped coming to work in late January after receiving or hearing about the “violent threats.”

One woman in her late 30s said she had received a phone call in late January telling her she must immediately quit her job at BRAC. Two nights later a group of about 10 men, dressed in black and wearing masks barged into her shelter.

“They said, ‘We told you not to go out and work, you didn’t listen,’” she said. “One of them beat me with a stick on my back.”

Another young woman, who was also threatened, summed up the divide in the camps.

“We are just doing something good for our community,” she said. “Some people support them, but many feel like us. They put superglue over our mouths.”

Easter a holiday in Bangladesh this year

In Bangladesh, where Sunday is not a holiday, Easter will be celebrated as a holiday for the first time in 30 years.

This was largely the effort of Gloria Jharna Sarker, the first Catholic woman parliamentarian chosen in the last elections who fought to have the rights of the Christian community recognized at the national level, reports AsiaNews.

On Easter Sunday, April 21, all schools in the country will remain closed. Welcoming the good news, local Christians say it is a positive sign of good relations between religions.

A Dhaka merchant explained to AsiaNews that since independence gained in 1971, Sunday was a holiday, including Easter Sunday. However, Sunday ceased to be a holiday since the mid-1980s, when former president Hussain Muhammad Ershad introduced the Islamic tradition making Friday the weekly holiday. “In this way, the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was excluded from the nationally recognized festivities ”.

The merchant pointed out that after the Sunday holiday was suppressed, the bishops did not do much to oppose it, unlike some ecumenical movements that sometimes gave rise to protest demonstrations, organizing sit-ins and symbolic events.

However, the Easter holiday this year happened to be mere luck. The merchant explained that an opportunity presented itself this year with the election of the deputy, who “was able to intelligently exploit a quibble of bureaucracy”. Islamic moveable festivals are established each year by a commission led by the Minister for Religious Affairs based on the movement of the moon.

At the beginning of the year, the Islamic festival of “Shab-e-Barat” (night for forgiveness) was set for April 21, which is Easter. After a re-calculation of the various lunar movements, the day was moved to April 22, Easter Monday. At that point, April 21 was declared a holiday anyway.

It is not known whether this will happen in the years to come but this year Christians have welcomed it with joy. (Source: AsiaNews)

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Attempts to improve public health in Bangladesh appear to have misfired

GIVEN A CHOICE between using a nearby water well known to be contaminated with arsenic or a more distant one not known to be poisoned, every sane person would opt for the latter. In Bangladesh in the early 2000s, however, that appears to have been the wrong decision. In 1999 the government began a massive campaign to convince households drawing water from shallow backyard wells with high concentrations of arsenic to switch to deeper wells or streams that were free of the toxic metal. Arsenic is present naturally in groundwater across the globe, but is especially prevalent in Bangladesh. Prior to the campaign, roughly 65% of Bangladeshis in the authors’ sample were drinking water with unsafe levels of arsenic, high exposure to which could lead to increased rates of cancer and infant mortality as well as decreased intelligence quotient for affected children. However, alternative sources were typically farther away from people’s homes, increasing the likelihood that users would make fewer trips and store their water for longer periods of time. And improperly stored water is often mishandled, increasing the rates of cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. As a result, by asking people not to use wells polluted with arsenic, the government unintentionally caused the number of deaths resulting from ingesting water contaminated by faecal matter to rise.

In a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Nina Buchmann, an economist at Stanford, and her co-authors collected data from 3,138 Bangladeshi households in 2007. Their data included a sample of more than 12,000 children born between 1980 and 2007, which allowed them to evaluate the mortality rate among households that were and were not encouraged to switch water sources during the government’s campaign. According to their study, post-campaign, households encouraged to switch water sources had 48% higher rates of child mortality than those not encouraged to switch. They found that the increase in deaths was higher in households that were farther away from a deep well, which increases the storage time.