Switzerland’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard has said there is a growing global expectation to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis and prepare the ground for a sustainable return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Myanmar.
Ambassador Chuard, however, said the conditions required for a sustainable, voluntary, safe and dignified return are not there yet.
"It's important that the international community continues supporting Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts, and that this support includes key elements facilitating refugees’ return, such as documentation, education and skills," she told UNB in an interview at her residence.
For Switzerland, the Ambassador said, this is very important to foster the dialogue with all actors around this crisis.
"I can say that the international community continues to work closely and jointly with all the countries and stakeholders in the region to find a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis," said Ambassador Chuard.
She, however, said they are also looking for a solution within the framework of international humanitarian and human rights laws, and want to ensure that humanitarian access is given to all refugees.
Ambassador Chuard highly appreciates Bangladesh for hosting Rohingyas. "I very much commend the generosity and hospitality of the government and the people of Bangladesh."
"When it comes to the planned relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, I’ve to echo what many members of the international community have already said. We need to have the critical protection, basic rights, services and operational issues assessed and addressed effectively," she said.
Ambassador Chuard said that an independent and comprehensive technical and protection assessment should be done regarding the feasibility and safety of such relocation.
The government of Bangladesh says it will relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char and there is an indication that the relocation will begin from the first week of December in small groups without giving any big announcement.
Ambassador Chuard, who recently visited the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, said she is really amazed with the comprehensive response from all actors.
"There's a very strong and very important collaboration among all actors," said the Ambassador, who met partners, government and UN officials on the ground.
The Swiss Ambassador is also pleased to see that deforestation has now been somehow turned into reforestation. "That's a very positive signal."
The envoy said she was in a position to see with her own eyes how the partners are adjusting their activities with the Covid-19 situation.
"I was impressed by how humanitarian actors adapted their operations to the new set of challenges while still being focused on responding to the needs," she said.
Mentioning that the Rohingya crisis entered the fourth year, she said people want to go home in Myanmar.
"It’s crucial to give them the hope and perspectives. Living conditions remain dire, with enduring protection concerns related to safety and security, especially for the most vulnerable groups, such as women and girls," said the Ambassador.
Since the beginning of Covid, increased gender-based violence has been reported in the camps.
Switzerland highlights these critical concerns and the importance of addressing protection issues, as well as livelihood and education opportunities for the Rohingyas.
Responding to a question on the host community, the Ambassador said Switzerland’s support is not only going to the camps but also to the host communities.
Switzerland has an active presence in Cox’s Bazar with direct actions addressing challenges such as sanitation and waste management at district level.
“It’s a crucial upgrade for the district, and I’m proud that Switzerland has the expertise and technology that can improve the current infrastructure,” said Ambassador Chuard.
Repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
In fact, for the past three years, she has been playing a key role in providing education to women and children at Rohingya camps, who are deprived of formal studies. Rimu has also been raising awareness among the Rohingyas on various issues, including child marriage, dowry and domestic violence.
She also uses mass media like radio broadcasts and road plays to create awareness among the Rohingyas about the UN Security Council's recommendations on women, peace and security. "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is my inspiration and the Jago Nari Foundation acted as a bridge for moving ahead," Rimu told UNB.
For its list of 100 inspiring and influential women, BBC was looking for candidates who had made headlines or influenced important stories over the past 12 months, as well as those who have inspiring stories to tell, achieved something significant or influenced their societies in ways that wouldn't necessarily hog media limelight.
The pool of names was then assessed against this year's theme -- Women who led change -- and measured for regional representation, before the final list was released. The broadcaster releases the list every year.
"I do believe in women's power for realising rights. I did not do anything to get recognition from BBC. I got involved in social service and never thought I would get such a big honour in recognition of my work. I feel proud and lucky to have received this honour," Rimu said.
Asking about her future plans, she said, “I would like to work for the upliftment of women and children, who always remain deprived due to lack of opportunities despite having potential.”
Rimu’s father Abdur Rahim, said “We are happy and we’ll support her for the continuation of her success.”
Sheuli Sharma, Executive Director of Jago Nari Foundation, said, "Remu’s achievement is not only for Jago Nari or Cox’s Bazar but also a huge achievement for Bangladesh. I think her outstanding achievement is a reflection of the Prime Minister's efforts to empower women, and it will be a milestone in removing barriers for women across the country."
Benapole port, the largest land port in the country, has become a safe haven for smugglers.
UNB has learnt that the smugglers who operate under the aegis of a syndicate use Indian trucks for bringing in the smuggled goods, including medicines, cosmetics and clothes, and sometimes contraband items, dodging the Customs.
As the smuggling is taking place in broad daylight, and that too under the nose of law enforcement agencies, it's obvious that the illegal business is flourishing with active support from some corrupt port officials.
Not only is the smuggling syndicate causing huge losses to the state exchequer, but also bringing disrepute to many well-known importers by using their names in their nefarious activities.
Every year, Bangladeshi importers pay Tk 300 crore as tax to the government. They now accuse the authorities of turning a blind eye to the smuggling activities at the port.
On November 9, Altech Aluminium Limited imported over 12 tonnes of aluminium on 14 trucks after paying Tk 48 lakh as revenue. But a smuggling syndicate member managed to load 14 bales of cloth on the same trucks in connivance with one of the drivers.
When the customs authorities asked for papers, the accused driver said he needed 30 minutes to produce the documents. Both he and the smuggler concerned then escaped, forcing the Customs Intelligence to seize all the items.
Similarly, on November 18, a team of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) seized cosmetics, chocolates, liquor, cumin seeds and raisins after searching a truck but failed to arrest anyone as the driver managed to flee.
Motiur Rahman, director of Indo-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (IBCCI), said, “Businessman are counting losses due to the smuggling syndicate that operate in connivance with some corrupt port officials."
"Immediate steps should be taken to put an end to smuggling of goods through the port," he added.
Zia Uddin, owner of Altech Aluminium Limited, said, “The port area is a secured area. How can a syndicate become active in it? Also why are importers becoming the victims of the syndicate despite paying Tk 48 crore to the government as revenue every year?"
He demanded immediate measures to detect the movement of unauthorised people in the port area.
When contacted, Mohammad Azizur Rahman, Commissioner of Benapole Customs, said, “Due to the smuggling syndicate, legitimate importers are constantly being harassed at the port. An urgent probe committee will be formed to look into the matter. Customs will take legal action against smugglers."
In a major breakthrough, researchers in Bangladesh have found that an existing medicine called eltrombopag -- used to treat chronic immune thrombocytopenia or chronic hepatitis C infection -- could be repurposed to create the first drug treatment for the deadly dengue fever.
Some 390 million people contract dengue virus globally each year. While most patients experience fever or a mild form of the disease, a small percentage goes on to develop the potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), wherein blood leaks from ruptured blood vessels leading to dengue shock syndrome (DSS).
In its experiment, a team of 12 from Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical college administered a small dose (25 mg) of eltrombopag in 101 dengue patients and saw the success of the drug, a release by Dhaka University's biochemistry and molecular biology department said.
Dr. Sajib Chakraborty, Associate Professor of the department, who is also one of the researchers, said, “One of the symptoms of dengue is low blood platelets. But there is a medicine called eltrombopag that increases blood platelets. But it has never been used in dengue. We started research on how it can work in the dengue treatment,”
Novartis, an international pharmaceutical giant, developed the drug in 2008, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014. Eltrombopag is mainly used when the platelets are low in liver disease, apart from other ailments.
Dr Chakraborty said, “Since the number of platelets in dengue patients decreases, we have speculated that this medicine may work to increase the platelet count in patients. However, we were not 100% sure. Then we started experimenting with this.”
“We have seen good results in our research,” he said, adding, “About 92% of the dengue patients -- who took eltrombopag -- had their platelet counts returned to normal in eight days. Of those who did not take this medicine, only 55% recovered. As a result, most of the patients are recovering after taking this medication.”
Also read: Dengue cases spike in Bangladesh
About the side effects of the medicine, Dr. Chakraborty said, “We have also seen whether there is any side effect of the eltrombopag as many platelets can cause damage if they increase. Many times blood can clot. But in the case of patients, (this medicine) did not get anything like that. Only 3% of patients had reported some side effects, such as diarrhea.”
The researchers said it was a second-phase test. However, in order to fully confirm the success of this medicine on dengue, it is necessary to conduct human testing on thousands of people in multiple countries in the third phase.
“The drug has not yet been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). But if it succeeds in testing on a larger scale like ours, then surely it will be included in the guidelines for the treatment of dengue,” he said.
The study, conducted from October 2019 to February 2020, has been published in ‘The Lancet Journal of Clinical Medicine’. The study was funded by a pharmaceutical company called Incepta Pharmaceuticals of Bangladesh.
Also read: Risk of dengue outbreak rises amid lockdown
Switzerland wants to strengthen and widen its ties with Bangladesh to explore "amazing potential" together as Bangladesh is set to celebrate its 50 years of independence next year with Vision 2041 in place, says its envoy in Dhaka.
"Our relationship is very strong. My overall priority and overarching goal is to strengthen and widen this relationship, and it’s pursued in different domains," Switzerland’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard told UNB in an interview at her residence.
She said they aim to boost economic and trade relations between the two countries as both sides have the interest to do so.
"We see so much potential, be it from Bangladesh or be it from Switzerland. So, definitely this is one of the priorities," said the Ambassador during her first interaction with the media since her arrival in May this year.
According to Swiss statistics, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Switzerland has more than tripled since 2010 and stood at around $850 million last year.
Most of the major Swiss multinational companies as well as a number of small and medium enterprises are present in Bangladesh. The number of Swiss companies doing business with or in Bangladesh is around 100 now.
Ambassador Chuard said she really looks forward to having "open and forward-looking dialogue" with Bangladesh on issues that are very important for both the countries.
The issues include sustainable development goals (SDGs), migration, multilateralism and human rights.
Touching upon another priority, the Swiss Ambassador said development cooperation with Bangladesh remains one of the priorities.
"We’re now planning our future Country Programme 2022-2025 and our objectives are aligned with the SDGs and Bangladesh’s priorities," said Ambassador Chuard adding that they really want to continue working with Bangladesh on issues ensuring inclusive growth, equality and prosperity for all.
Swiss investments in Bangladesh are mainly concentrated in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction, technical services and fast-moving consumer goods.
Almost all top Swiss multinational companies are present in Bangladesh and continuously expanding their portfolios.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, Swiss investment inflow to Bangladesh during fiscal year 2020 stood at around US$ 45 million.
"I really hope that Swiss companies present here can play a role of Business Ambassadors and also show that things are good, and there’re potentials for companies to invest in Bangladesh, provided there’s a level playing field," said the Swiss Ambassador.
Responding to a question, the envoy said Bangladesh has improved a lot in terms of infrastructure facilities.
She thinks Swiss companies, which are interested in the Bangladeshi market, will listen to their counterparts’ testimonies on the ground situation.
"I hope that economic relations will deepen during my tenure here," said the Swiss Ambassador noting that progress is there in terms of business climate improvement and the government is embarking on many initiatives.
Ambassador Chuard, however, said there is still room for Bangladesh to see further improvement in ease of doing business with legal security and business predictability in place for foreign investment.
"Once Swiss and foreign companies have a positive experience, they’ll continue to further expand their business. I see a lot of progress and positive intentions from the authorities. We’ll continue to have discussions in order to have effective solutions for the companies to the problems they usually face," she said.
Ambassador Chuard said the growing trade and investment brings a win-win situation for both, contributing to a prosperous Bangladesh.
Further improvement in the business climate will encourage new companies to come and invest here, she said.
The growth trajectory of such a young nation like Bangladesh is "very impressive" though there are numerous challenges, said Ambassador Chuard.
She said the second meeting between the inter-agency Committee of Bangladesh and Switzerland was held in Dhaka recently and discussed the trade and economic issues.
"It was a very positive meeting and we addressed some specific business issues, including business climate," said the Ambassador.
The Swiss envoy said she is very convinced that more companies will invest in Bangladesh and saw a very much supportive approach from the government side of Bangladesh.
Ambassador Chuard said she is very optimistic to see Bangladesh is getting back on track after the first wave of Covid-19. "We’re very impressed with the resilience and potential of Bangladesh."
She said it is a very important moment not in Bangladesh but also in the entire world as every nation is facing the same health challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Nobody is safe until everyone is safe. We would like to see Bangladesh and everybody else safe," said Ambassador Chuard, the first foreign envoy who arrived in Bangladesh soon after the pandemic had begun.
She said they reallocated resources amounting Tk 70 crore to respond to the crisis. "Switzerland has been standing in solidarity with Bangladesh to help it during this unprecedented global crisis."
The Ambassador said the solidarity is still there and it has not finished. "Still, we’ve projects ongoing to address the needs of vulnerable people."
She said the Swiss companies in Bangladesh also played a very important role since the beginning of Covid-19.
50 Years of Bangladesh
Switzerland recognised Bangladesh as an independent country on March 13, 1972 and established diplomatic relations. Bangladesh is going to celebrate its 50 years of independence next year.
Ambassador Chuard said celebrating the 50 years of the country's independence is a very important occasion.
"It's also an important milestone for us as our relations exist from the very beginning of Bangladesh's independence." she said adding that there are lots of things to learn from Bangladesh.
Traditionally, the Ambassador said, their relationship with Bangladesh is very much focused on development cooperation, humanitarian aid but it has now grown to many other areas and branches-economic, political and in cultural domains.
"Bangladesh has adopted Vision 2041 and really seeks further development. That's very fascinating. I’m very honoured and excited to be here at such a time," she said.
The Swiss Ambassador said the Vision is very important for inclusive and environment-friendly growth so that everyone can benefit from that growth.