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Rohingya in no man's land caught in repatriation limbo

  • Published at 07:56 pm January 24th, 2018
Rohingya in no man's land caught in repatriation limbo

With a barbed wire fence on one side and a putrid creek on the other, 6,000 Rohingyas in a strip of land between Bangladesh and Myanmar anxiously wait to see if they will be sent back to homes few want to return to.

A tense behind-the-scenes battle is being fought by the two governments over their future and that of more than 688,000 other Rohingya who escaped a military crackdown in Myanmar and now live in camps on the Bangladesh side of the border.

Bangladesh decided this week to delay the start of repatriating refugees who began streaming over the border in October 2016.

That stream turned into a flood in August last year, as Rohingya fled what the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing."

While Myanmar claimed it was ready to accept the refugees, Bangladesh said it needed more time to prepare.

Life is not easy at Konarpara, a sliver of no man's land officially neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar, where hundreds of tarpaulin and bamboo shanties have sprouted up on a former rice paddy since last August.

Those scratching out an existence there were among thousands of Rohingya who fled in the early days of the crisis and were blocked from entering Bangladesh.

They can see Myanmar soldiers patrolling the border and Burmese children flying kites beyond the frontier.

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) controls the other side, letting the refugees cross into their territory to collect aid and see doctors.

Husne Ara, a 26-year-old mother of five who said her husband and two sons were killed in Myanmar, would rather die in limbo than return.

"There is no way I will go. Why don't you just kill us here instead? I would prefer that over being sent back," said Ara.

"If Bangladesh doesn't want us, doesn't want to take responsibility for us, then just kill us. But I cannot go back after what they (Myanmar) did."

Bangladesh and Myanmar reached an accord in November to start sending back the Rohingya.

The huge operation should have started this week, with many expecting those in no man's land to be the test of whether an official scheme can start in the giant camps around Cox's Bazar.

Abul Naser, a 45-year-old Rohingya, said they still heard gunshots and saw flames rising from burning villages across the border.

"How can they talk about sending us back there? We will not go. Not first, not last," he told AFP.