Camps looked deserted as all Rohingyas remained in their houses and kept their shops closed
The usually cramped Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar had a strange look on Tuesday. The camps looked deserted as over a million Rohingyas remained in their houses and kept their shops closed.
The roads in all the 34 camps in Teknaf and Ukhia under Cox’s Bazar were completely devoid of people.
The Rohingyas arranged the silent protest to commemorate the third anniversary of the day hundreds of thousands of them fled their homeland in Myanmar. The exodus followed a crackdown by the Myanmar military, aided by local Buddhist mobs and miscreants from other ethnic groups in northwest Rakhine, on August 25 three years ago.
The Rohingyas refer to the day as “Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day.”
Just a year ago, on the second anniversary of the exodus, about 200,000 protesters gathered at Kutupalong. This time, they stayed indoors.
Mohib Ullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told Dhaka Tribune that Rohingyas were not holding any rallies or gatherings considering the risk of further transmissions of coronavirus in the camps.
“We are all staying inside our houses as a mark of silent protest. Nobody is going to their job, nobody is going to their shop, and no one is going to the market. Nobody is going outside,” said the Rohingya leader who led last year’s rally.
Currently, the Rohingyas are sheltered by Bangladesh with no work or decent educational opportunities for their children. On the other hand, the camps are completely separated from the outside world because of government restrictions on the use of SIM cards or internet inside the camps.
“Today [Tuesday], we request the international community to first recognize what happened to us as genocide, and second, repatriate us with guarantees of international security,” Mohib Ullah said.
“Third, take our case to the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court for ensuring justice,” he told this correspondent at his office in the camp.
He also urged the international community to ensure that the Rohingyas could exercise their rights in the forthcoming elections in Myanmar.
Organizations, including the Rohingya Student Union, Rohingya Student Network, Rohingya Youth for Legal Action, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, Rohingya Youth Federation, Rohingya Community Development Program, Education for Rohingya Generation, Rohingya Women for Justice and Peace, and Imams of the area, showed support for the protest through this silent movement to remember the Rohingya genocide victims.
Shafik Ahmed of camp 8 said this silent movement had been organized as the United Nations had not officially declared the killing of Rohingyas as a genocide.
“We are holding a silent protest by staying inside our homes because we want to return to our homeland properly, with dignity, and to convey the sadness we feel for those who were killed during the genocide,” said another Rohingya camp resident.
‘No alternative to going back to Rakhine’
Stepping into the fourth year since the August 25 exodus, Rohingyas who fled the Myanmar military’s crimes against humanity and possible genocide yet again renewed their call for a safe and dignified return to their homeland as soon as possible.
Nearly 75% of the Rohingyas who now live in Bangladeshi camps fled Myanmar as a result of forced deportation, murder, rape and persecution against them in northern Rakhine State.
The United Nations and other international human rights bodies are also demanding repatriation with conditions of the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingyas being fulfilled.
Bangladesh first attempted the repatriation of the Rohingyas in November 2018 and then on August 22, 2019, but neither attempt saw any success as the Myanmar authorities failed to earn the trust of the Rohingyas, which led the persecuted people to express their unwillingness to return.
Despite the good intentions of Bangladesh in trying to find an arrangement that is beneficial for all parties, Myanmar has never seemed interested in taking its people back.
“We have our houses there [in Rakhine], we have our land there, and we have our families there. We will have to go back there today or tomorrow. We are now in Bangladesh and grateful to the country for sheltering us, but this is not our land,” said Mohammad Rafik, who used to live in the Chantoli area of Akyab (Sittwe) Township in Rakhine.
Rafik, now 22, said he missed his village every day but the Rohingyas could not trust the Myanmar military or government.
“We are ready to go back only if a conducive environment is created in Rakhine, ensuring the safety and security of our people,” he added.
Government crackdown or voluntary silent protest?
This correspondent visited five camps and found similar silent protests at each of them.
However, some people claimed they had to close all shops and remain at home as they were instructed to do so by police and government officials. They also alleged that no vehicles were allowed to enter the camps because of the government action.
However, Abu Saleh Md Obaidullah, in-charge of camp 8 east, 9 and 10, said no such instruction had been issued by the government.
“Government activities are normal in the camps today [Tuesday] as well. But they [Rohingyas] have decided to observe this day in commemoration of their exodus three years ago. This is their own decision,” Obaidullah said.
“The only instruction we have — which is not new but an old one — is that no gathering should be allowed to take place in the camps, as any kind of gathering has been prohibited by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh,” he added.
Dhaka Tribune called Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Md Mahbub Alam Talukder to check whether there had been any restrictions by the government, but the calls remained unanswered.