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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Rohingya families torn apart by conscription

  • Impact of the abductions on these families is profound
  • Families are now turning to the international community for help
Update : 18 May 2024, 10:43 AM

In the early hours of May 3, the lives of three Rohingya families were irreversibly altered. Their sons (pseudonyms), Zakir, 22, Rohmat Ali, 26, and Yunus, 31, were forcibly taken by armed individuals from near their shelter in the refugee camps of Bangladesh. This incident is part of a broader, sinister campaign by the Myanmar military and their allies, targeting vulnerable Rohingya refugees to replenish their dwindling ranks amid ongoing conflict with the Arakan Army (AA).

The abduction unfolded in the late afternoon. The men were resting after a day of labour, unwinding at a shop near their shelter. It was here that two men, who are brothers, approached with pistols in hand. "They are known to be with the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) and they threatened us with a pistol not to move and intimidated our sons to follow them," recounted one of the mothers. The fear was palpable, and a reminder of the relentless violence and threats faced by the Rohingya in the camps on a daily basis.

The abductees were more than just names; they were beloved members of their families with dreams, hopes, and a relentless drive to support their loved ones. Zakir, who worked as a cleaner for a local NGO, Rohmat Ali, and Yunus, both daily labourers, were integral to their families’ survival. Despite their lack of formal education, their aspirations were simple yet profound: to provide for their families and secure a better future.

"Zakir loved joking with friends and was always honest," his mother shared, her voice trembling with emotion. "Rohmat Ali and Yunus were the same. They were hardworking and cherished by all who knew them."

Since their abduction, the families have had sporadic communication with their sons, facilitated by other abductees who managed to smuggle a “button mobile phone.” "They told us they were taken to Myo Thu Gyi, Na Ka Ka (Area 5) Police Battalion in Maungdaw," one mother explained. The conditions described were dire. Limited food, inadequate water, and a complete lack of medical care painted a grim picture of their daily existence.

The three abductees have been sold for some form of gain, and according to their accounts, there are more than 500 individuals known as the "Rohingya military" at the Na Ka Ka (Area 5) Police Battalion in Myo Thu Gyi. "Among them, 150 are abductees from the refugee camps of Bangladesh, sent by the RSO like victims of human trafficking," said another relative of the three men.

The impact of the abductions on these families is profound. "We feel hopeless about their return," one father admitted, tears welling in his eyes. "Their children cry for them every day. It’s a void that nothing can fill." The psychological toll is immense, with the families grappling with a mix of despair and a faint glimmer of hope that their sons might return. The trio are fathers to 10 young children, all under the age of eight.

What compounds the horror for these families is their belief in the involvement of camp authorities, who appear to collude with the abductors. Despite the families' desperate pleas and formal complaints to every conceivable authority within the camps—from the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) police to UNHCR—action remains elusive. "We informed the APBn police of our Camp, the Camp-in-Charge Office, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), and UNHCR. When we informed APBn about our sons, they told us to get back to our shelter," a father recalled. “We fear the camp authorities are deeply involved with the RSO members," he explained. The sense of abandonment by the authorities is palpable amongst the three families.

The families are now turning to the international community for help. "We urge the world to pay attention to our plight," a Rohingya mother implored. "Our sons are in danger of being used as human shields against the Arakan Army. We beg for their release and safe return."

The international community, including prominent voices like the UN Secretary-General and Unicef, has raised serious concerns about the ongoing violence and its repercussions on civilians.

Notably, in townships like Buthidaung and Sittwe, the military has manipulated Rohingya civilians into protesting against the AA, employing coercion and dire threats such as the burning of homes to enforce participation.

These protesters, under duress, carried banners with messages like “We don’t want war” and “No AA,” symbolising a rejection of conflict brought by the AA’s presence in their villages.

At the same time, the Rohingya have observed with trepidation Twan Mrat Naing's leadership of the AA, which has involved increasingly labelling them as "Bengali" and publicly dismissing the genocide allegations as "fake." They view these actions as deliberate attempts to discredit and marginalise their community further.

This backdrop of coercion and manipulation and exploitation of ethnic tensions set the stage for the forced recruitment of Rohingya by both the AA and Myanmar military. The coercive conscription practices highlight the severe constraints and dire choices faced by the Rohingya.

The spectre of forced conscription now haunts the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, affecting numerous families and contributing to an atmosphere of fear and control. Across the camps, young Rohingya men have deserted their shelters to avoid conscription.

Recent messages from Ko Ko Linn of the RSO indicate the involvement of the RSO and the Arakan Rohingya Army (ARA) in recruiting Rohingya to engage in conflicts in Arakan. Reports suggest that recruits are being handed over not only to the Myanmar military, historically responsible for acts of genocide against their community, but also to the AA. In response to growing concerns, Ko Ko Linn, the leader of the RSO, has stated that their actions are focused only on those individuals who have previously received training from the RSO and the ARA. He emphasised: “I want to clarify that we are only apprehending our trained members from the camps; we are not arresting the general public.”

Ko Ko Linn did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

In a striking twist of irony, Khaing Thuka, a spokesperson for the AA, has openly condemned the recruitment practices occurring within the refugee camps in Bangladesh, branding the actions of groups such as ARSA, ARA, and RSO as “reprehensible.” Khaing Thuka criticised these groups for deceiving youths into cooperation with the Myanmar military.

For these families, the struggle is far from over. They remain steadfast, holding onto every bit of hope that their sons will return. "We think there are fewer possibilities for communication, but we will never give up," one mother vowed. Their message to the world is clear: "We want our sons back. They deserve to live in peace, free from fear and persecution.”

In the face of such adversity, the families’ love for their sons shines through. "We are thinking of you every moment," they conveyed in a heartfelt message. "Stay strong, and know we are doing everything in our power to bring you home. Never give up hope.”

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