Without the dialogue and unless Naypyidaw meets their demands, the Rohingyas will never opt for repatriation
The Rohingyas, sheltered at various camps in Cox's Bazar, have called for dialogue with Myanmar authorities first before they attempt to repatriate the refugees from Bangladesh.
Without the dialogue and unless Naypyidaw meets their demands, the Rohingyas will never opt for repatriation and resettlement at their homeland, Rohingya leaders said on Sunday.
The call came in the morning from a massive gathering of over 100,000 Rohingyas who came from most of the camps across Teknaf and Ukhiya, to observe two years of their latest exodus from Rakhine.
Cox's Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Md Iqbal Hossain said: "Over 100,000 Rohingyas gathered here observing two years of their latest exodus from Myanmar."
The event was held at a field in Camp No 4 (Extension) at Kutupalong's Modhurchhara in Ukhiya.
Organized mostly by the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), the event was addressed by a number of Rohingya leaders. A nearly 20-minute-long munajat followed before the program ended.
ARSPH Chairman Md Mohibullah, who arrived at and left the venue under police protection, told the demonstration: "Myanmar government must hold dialogue with us first. They must talk to us first about our demands and meeting them."
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"Then we'll talk about our repatriation and our resettlement in our own land."
The Rohingya leaders while addressing the demonstration reiterated their demands -- top priority of which is Myanmar citizenship as Rohingyas, safety and security of their lives once repatriated, and resettlement in their home and land that they lost during the crackdown of security forces in 2017.
They also said that the international community must keep on pushing the Myanmar government to establish trust and meet their demands.
The Rohingya leaders also demanded that the International Criminal Court must try and punish the Myanmar military officials and Mogh extremists for the atrocities they committed against the Rohingya population of north-western Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, who sat on the field and the hillocks surrounding it under a scorching sun, roared in agreement.
Shura Khatun, who attended Sunday's demonstration along with a group of Rohingya women, said she had attended last year's congregation as well.
"We came here to commemorate those killed by Myanmar security forces. We paid homage to all victims of the atrocities," she added.
Amir Ahmed, a teacher at a school in Camp No 1, said they gathered here in harmony over their ordeal as refugees.
"Citizenship as Rohingyas, security of our lives and return of our homes and lands must be ensured before we are repatriated," he said.
Another Rohingya man, who lives in Camp No 8, said: "We are not happy here. But we are at least alive, and that is mostly everything to us nowadays.
"We know we are a burden on this country. But we didn't have another choice. We didn’t have anywhere else to flee with whatever we could grab when the attacks started that day [August 25, 2017]."
The man in his mid-30s stressed that they will go back to their homeland if the Myanmar government meets their demand and implements them in coordination with the International community, including the United Nations.
More than 730,000 Rohingyas had fled Rakhine to Bangladesh after Myanmar's armed forces launched a crackdown following attacks on security posts on August 25, 2017.
While the majority of Rohingya residents of north-western Myanmar were driven out by the military campaign, a scattered community of some 200,000 remained behind in Rakhine state, in villages that were spared the violence.
Two years on, many of them are now trapped by a new conflict between government troops and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group that recruits from the mostly Buddhist Rakhine, since late last year.
Thousands of Rohingyas had attended Sunday's demonstration with festoons, posters, banners and placards -- all of which mentioned their demands including citizenship and justice.
Meanwhile, observing the black day, a number of other Rohingya groups held demonstrations at different camps in Kutupalong, Balukhaki and Unchiprang areas of Ukhiya and Teknaf. They also made the same demands.
Since their arrival in Bangladesh, fleeing brutal persecution, the 730,000 Rohingyas have been living in dire situations in cramped shelters in this coastal district.
With them and the 400,000 Rohingyas who crossed into Bangladesh over the past decade or more, Cox's Bazar currently hosts more than 1.1 million refugees, according to official data.However, sources from different NGOs said that the current Rohingya population in at least 30 camps were well over 1.4 million, including the children who were born here. Dhaka Tribune could not verify this data independently.
Repatriation in limbo
Last week, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar made a second attempt to repatriate some Rohingya families currently living in Camp No 26 at Shalbagan, Teknaf.
But that attempt fell on its face after the Rohingyas made it clear that they felt betrayed as Myanmar did not hold dialogue with them and they will not go back until their demands are met, of which citizenship is top priority.
They also demanded restoration of their homes, lands and assets, trial of those who carried out the atrocities on the Rohingyas and rehabilitations of those living in the camps of internally displaced people (IDP) in Myanmar.
The Government of Bangladesh handed the list of 3,450 individuals so far verified by Myanmar to UNHCR through the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Dhaka on August 8, to ascertain whether these people are ready to return voluntarily to northern Rakhine under the present circumstances. The Government of Bangladesh ensured all necessary arrangements on the Bangladesh side, including security and logistics for the voluntary return of Rohingyas to northern Rakhine.
Out of the list of 3,450 Rohingyas provided by Bangladesh, UNHCR interviewed 339 families comprising 1,276 individuals, till August 22. In the interview process, all available information and the fact sheets provided by the Government of Myanmar, were shared with the families concerned.
Moreover, a number of measures, including security arrangements, were taken so that the people concerned could freely express their intent. Unfortunately, none of the families interviewed agreed to return under the present circumstances, as they consider the security situation and overall environment in Rakhine not yet conducive for their return.
Almost all the families interviewed expressed their deep concern over the security situation in Rakhine. The overwhelming majority of families underscored the lack of progress in addressing justice and rights related issues, including citizenship, freedom of movement, and land use rights.
All families interviewed have reaffirmed their desire to return, once their concerns are reasonably addressed by the Government of Myanmar.