Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘Let’s go home’: Thousands of Rohingya demonstrate in camps in Bangladesh

Thousands of Rohingya refugees held peaceful rallies in Bangladesh on Sunday, saying they wanted to return to Myanmar, which fled in 1978 amid waves of ethnic and religious persecution.

Just a day before World Refugee Day, Rohingya Muslims living in 34 overcrowded camps in Bangladesh’s southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar demonstrated under the banner “Let’s go home”.

Amid intermittent rain, they were seen marching along the dirt roads passing through the camps, raising slogans and holding placards.

The Rohingya handed over leaflets with a 19-point demand, which includes their earliest safe return to Myanmar and the repeal of a controversial 1982 law in the country that does not recognize them as citizens.

While small rallies took place in some of the camps, Kutupalong had a large rallies of around 10,000 people.

At the camp’s football field, Mohamed Zubair, the Rohingya leader, asked the crowd, “Do you want to go back to Arakan?”

The crowd replied in unison, “Yes, we want to go back.”

Arakan is another name for Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where the military began its crackdown on the ethnic Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017. An estimated 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist.

failed reversion

Even though the Rohingya expressed their desire to return to Myanmar, Bangladesh’s efforts to bring them back have failed at least twice in the past five years. Since fleeing military action, which the United Nations said was conducted by Myanmar “with genocidal intent”, these Rohingya refugees have been living in Bangladeshi camps with minimal facilities, no work and little access to education.

In March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that the military in Myanmar, also known as Burma, committed genocide against the Rohingya and crimes against humanity.

Myanmar has faced sanctions from the United States and other countries for its treatment of the Rohingya as well as a military coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021. Military officials claimed fraud in the November 2020 vote, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won overwhelmingly.

Myanmar’s election commission has denied the allegations.

Rohingya Refugees Take Part &Quot;Let'S Go Home&Quot; A Rally To Demand Repatriation At The Kutupalong Rohingya Camp In Cox'S Bazar, Bangladesh, June 19, 2022.

Rohingya refugees take part in a “Let’s Go Home” rally demanding repatriation at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, June 19, 2022.

Zubair, leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), a camp-based organization working for the rights and justice of the Rohingya people, said the Rohingyas want a change in the status quo.

“We do not want to live as refugees here in Bangladesh. We want the world to put pressure on Myanmar so that they can create acceptable conditions for our repatriation.”

“We have arranged these rallies to mark World Refugee Day and remind the world that we sincerely wish to return to our homeland if our honorable return is ensured,” Zubair said.

For that, the ARSPH leader said, the Myanmar government must first officially recognize them as “Rohingya”.

“We also want our assets in the state of Arakan back. We only want the basic rights and freedom enjoyed by other communities in the country,” Zubair said.

Another Rohingya leader, Noor Mohamed, said the message of Sunday’s rally was simple.

“We wanted to tell the world that the Rohingya are citizens of Myanmar. Arakan State is our birthplace. And we want to return to our homeland,” he said.

no new campaign

The campaign by refugees was started by Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah in 2019. He was shot dead in September at Kutupalong camp.

Last week, Bangladesh police arrested 15 Rohingyas in connection with his death and are on the lookout for 14 others.

Ullah was a former president of the ARSPH and rose to prominence in 2019 for holding a 100,000-strong rally at the Kutupalong camp, where he called for justice for the “Rohingya genocide” and a “honorable return” to Myanmar.

Since that massive rally, Rohingyas were banned from holding large-scale gatherings inside the camp.

Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shamsud Dauza told the VOA that they have given the Rohingya permission to organize Sunday rallies to mark World Refugee Day.

“Rohingyas from different camps were rallying freely to demand repatriation. The largest was held from the Kutupalong camp. Our law enforcement forces closely monitored the entire situation,” he said, adding that the rallies were peaceful.

About the possibilities of his repatriation, Dauza said, “It is a complicated matter. The Rohingyas have expressed a desire to go back – that’s all, I can say.”

Britain-based Burmese human rights activist Maung Journey told the VOA that as long as the military, which has “institutionalized the deliberate destruction of Rohingyas” in power, “there is no chance of repatriation.”

Journey, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said Bangladesh needs to realize that “its policy of 100% focus on repatriation has proved to be a complete failure.”

“Repatriation attempts have been made in every wave since 1978, but look at the largest number of Rohingyas who came back to Bangladesh seeking refuge from genocidal violence and destruction. [the] Waves of 2016 and 2017,” he said.

Journey said Bangladesh should stop seeing the Rohingyas as a “burden” placed on them by Myanmar and instead treat them as “oppressed people who need to be empowered and supported.”

Abdul Aziz of Cox’s Bazar contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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