Family of slain Rohingya leader leaves Bangladesh for Canada

Canada has agreed to give refuge to 11 family members of a Rohingya rights activist who was gunned down at a refugee camp in Bangladesh last September, officials in Dhaka and a human rights group said Friday.

Nasima Khatun, the widow of Muhib Ullah, their nine children and the husband of one of their daughters departed the South Asian country on a flight from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on Thursday night, human rights advocate Nur Khan Liton confirmed to BenarNews.

“They are scheduled to arrive in Canada by Saturday,” Liton said.

“They left with the aim of having a safe life.”

On Friday, Bangladesh foreign ministry official Miah Md. Mainul Kabir credited the Canadian government for accepting Ullah’s survivors.

“The government of Bangladesh gave more importance to the Canadian government’s interest in this regard than the application of Muhib Ullah’s family,” he told BenarNews.

“As a shelter-providing country, Canada has done everything needed,” Mainul Kabir said, adding that Canada was the only country offering to shelter the family.

Thursday’s flight was out of the ordinary, he said, because groups that large normally are sent to another country in phases.

‘Serious fear for their security’

In October, an immigration and refugee affairs analyst said it was not unusual for Bangladesh to send Rohingya to a third country in the past. More than 900 Rohingya were sent to countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden in 2009 and 2010, said Asif Munir, a former official of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

This transfer is different because Ullah’s family left the country over a “serious fear for their security,” said Liton, general secretary of Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), a local human rights organization.

The IOM, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, and Canadian High Commission had arranged the family’s exit from Bangladesh, he said.

Gunmen killed Ullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), in his office at the Kutupalong refugee camp in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district on Sept. 29, 2021. 

Last month, Bangladeshi police said four of 15 people arrested over alleged ties to the killing had confessed to their roles in it and that those in custody said they belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group.

“UNHCR does not comment on individual cases,” Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, an official at the U.N. agency’s office in Dhaka, told BenarNews.

In addition, IOM and Canadian officials did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment.

Before leaving the country, the family asked Bangladesh officials to reopen the recently closed Myanmar curriculum school established by Ullah, Liton said.

About 1 million Rohingya, including 740,000 who fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown in 2017, have settled in refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, close to the border with Rakhine.

Nasima Khatun, the widow of Rohingya activist Muhib Ullah, speaks to reporters at her home in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 30, 2021. Credit: BenarNews
Nasima Khatun, the widow of Rohingya activist Muhib Ullah, speaks to reporters at her home in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 30, 2021. Credit: BenarNews

In his role as ARSPH chairman, Ullah had represented the stateless Rohingya community before the United Nations and at the White House in Washington, where he expressed concerns about his fellow refugees to then-President Donald Trump in 2019.
Two weeks after Ullah was killed, Bangladesh authorities cited security concerns when they moved his family to an undisclosed location. Police also moved the families of 10 other ARSPH leaders.

At the time, Md. Rashid Ullah, ARSPH spokesman and Ullah’s nephew, told BenarNews that those families wanted to leave Bangladesh over their own safety concerns.

Millions of dollars for Rohingya

Ullah’s family left Bangladesh days after American Ambassador Peter Haas announced on March 29 that the United States was providing U.S. $152 million (13 billion taka) in new humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya and their host communities in Bangladesh.

Haas made the announcement after his first visit to Cox’s Bazar earlier in the week, according to a news release from the U.S. Embassy.

“This brings the total we’ve provided since August 2017 to $1.7 billion (145.5 billion taka),” Haas said in the news release.

“Of this new funding, $125 million (10.7 billion taka) is for programs inside Bangladesh – for Rohingya refugees and affected Bangladeshi communities,” it said.

In Fiscal Year 2021 alone, the U.S. government reported spending nearly $302 million (25.9 billion taka) in support of humanitarian assistance programs for Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh.

Also this week, UNHCR launched a 2022 Joint Response Plan to raise more than $881 million (75.7 billion taka) to assist Rohingya. The funding is to support more than 918,000 Rohingya and about 540,000 Bangladeshis in neighboring communities, a UNHCR press release said.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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