Around 1.2 million people are sheltering on the border with Myanmar. Another attempt at repatriation fails because refugees have not been guaranteed Myanmar citizenship. Bangladesh refuses to bear the refugee burden any longer, warns if they don’t go back, they “will face tougher times”.
Cox’s Bazar (AsiaNews) – If the government of Myanmar "recognises our right to citizenship, we would certainly go back," said Abdur Rashid, a Rohingya refugee who spoke to AsiaNews.
After fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state, he found shelter in Camp 4 in Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar, eastern bangladesh. On Sunday, with other refugees, he marked the second anniversary of the latest clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Yesterday afternoon, protesters carrying banners and signs in the big muddy clearing near the refugee camp to reiterate their reasons for fleeing. Rashid stressed that all the refugees want to return to their country of origin, but as citizens.
"We all want to go back together,” he explained. “We want reassurances about our security, citizenship rights, national identity card. We want to live in our homeland with dignity. For us, today is the day of genocide. It's a black day. We want justice."
On 25 August 2017, violence led to the mass exodus of ethnic Rohingya Muslims. Originally from Bangladesh, they have been living in Myanmar for generations.
Currently, an estimated 1.2 million people are cramped in refugee camps in Cox’s Bar, a narrow strip of land on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Last week, UN investigators said that the mass murders and rapes carried out by Myanmar soldiers during attacks had a "genocidal intent".
Bangladesh has repeatedly stated that it can no longer bear the burden of the refugee presence and called on Myanmar to engage in repatriation.
According to Bangladeshi authorities, Myanmar is responsible for the refugee crisis and the failed attempts to bring the exiles home.
The voluntary repatriation of the first group of over 3,000 people was to begin last Thursday. However, nobody showed up at the meeting point because refugees want the Myanmar government to recognise their citizenship first. "We do not want to move from one refugee camp to another," they said.
Experts believe that the failed repatriation will lead Muslims to try to escape from the camps to try their luck in other parts of Bangladesh or abroad.
After Thursday’s no-show, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Ak Abdul Momen said that his government will be more heavy-handed if Rohingya refuse to go. Volunteers will no longer work for them and harder days will come if they refuse to return to Myanmar.
“If they do not return, their children will face tougher times,” the minister noted. “Bangladesh cannot take responsibility for Rohingya children because the country does not have Burmese-language teachers.”
Noor Mohammad, a young refugee, is worried about his three children. "Our children are not getting a formal education. We don’t have access to schools. Our next generation must be freed from such a bleak future."