Rohingya leaders of the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar are divided over the issue of repatriation with many trying to misguide the displaced minority about their return to Myanmar, a local government official said on Monday.
Myanmar was due to start taking back over 650,000 of its nationals from Bangladesh in a gradual process starting from Tuesday.
However, on Sunday the Bangladesh foreign minister, AH Mahmood Ali, said he was not able to give a specific date amid mounting international criticism that the process is being initiated too soon after the forced displacement of the Rohingyas from Rakhine State.
Ukhiya’s Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Nikaruzzaman told the Dhaka Tribune that the timetable for repatriation has split the “Majhis”, who are reportedly engaged in an internal feud.
“Some of the Majhis want to stay in Bangladesh as they get more facilities and relief from the aid providers,” he said.
“They are saying that it would not solve the Rohingya crisis and that they will again be persecuted [by the Myanmar government] once they go back.”
Nikaruzzaman said he feared the conflict between those Majhis who support repatriation and those who do not might create confusion among the Rohingyas.
As many as 673,000 of the mainly Muslim minority fled to Bangladesh between August 25 last year and January 17 after security forces in Myanmar launched a massive “clearance operation”.
Several hundred thousand more Rohingyas had already been living in two upazilas of Cox’s Bazar for years.
About 75% of the displaced Rohingyas are living in eight camps in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya upazila. The rest are at four camps in Teknaf.
Kutupalaung registered camp’s chairman, Abdur Rashid, said a section of Rohingyas are attacking supporters of repatriation to disrupt the process.
“Several non-government organizations, law enforcers and administration officials are backing Rohingyas opposing repatriation,” he said.
On Friday night, armed assailants shot dead pro-repatriation leader Majhi Md Yusuf and attacked five other leaders at Taznimarghona Camp in Thaingkhali, where 67,000 displaced Rohingyas reside.
According to Majhi Mohammad Ali, who leads 80 Majhis in Taznimarghona camp, Yusuf, 46, was a chairman of Dhunhai village in Maungdaw in Rakhine state.
“People opposing the repatriation murdered Yusuf,” he said.
Ukhiya police station’s Officer-in-Charge Abul Khayer said a Rohingya man identified as Mohammad Alam was arrested from the scene while in possession of a foreign pistol.
Another Rohingya, Momtaz Mia, 35, was stabbed to death by rivals during an altercation over repatriation at Lombashia camp on January 13. Police have arrested a resident of the camp over the murder.
On Sunday, a number of refugees demonstrated against repatriation during the visit of UN Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee. They said they would not go back to Myanmar unless their safety was guaranteed and they were granted citizenship.
They also demanded the rebuilding of their homes, mosques and schools which were burned down or damaged during the military crackdown.
Kutupalong registered camp’s In-charge Rezaul Karim said the law enforcers and intelligence agencies were collecting information on the anti-repatriation groups.
However, one Rohingya leader who has been living at Kutupalaung camp with his family since 1991 claimed that Myanmar spies were spreading misinformation about the situation in Rakhine state in order to disrupt the process.
“They are saying that the Myanmar Army and Moghs are still carrying out attacks,” Jafor Alam said, claiming that he knew some of the propagators but declined to share the names fearing for his family’s safety.
Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Ali Hossain said they were keeping the refugees under surveillance.
Cox’s Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Afjurul Haque Tutul said they had deployed 1,200 uniformed and 100 plainclothes police at the camps.
“Three assistant superintendents of police and 14 inspectors are monitoring the situation,” he said. “Check posts have been set up at 16 points to prevent the Rohingyas from leaving the camps.”