BANGLADESH Tens of thousands of Rohingya protest to return to Myanmar

Refugee protests erupted in camps across the border in Bangladesh. More than a million are living in camps in the southeast, which has become the largest refugee settlement in the world. The protesters are demanding citizenship rights and the reactivation of repatriation assistance programs. In 2022, 348 Rohingya died trying to reach Malaysia and Indonesia by boat.

Yangon () – Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh organized a mass demonstration today, demanding that they be distributed to Myanmar, from where they fled in 2017 after a brutal military repression. And it matters little that in parts of Naypyidaw (and Yangon) since February 2021 the junta and the generals, who overthrew the democratic NLD government and arrested its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are back in power for all intents and purposes. . Better the soldiers of the army, the refugees clamor, than the “sordid” reception centers in which they have lived all these years, many times in misery and indigence.

More than a million Rohingya have long been crammed into camps in southeastern Bangladesh, which have become the world’s largest refugee settlement. Most fled the crackdown by the Burmese army nearly six years ago, others have been living there longer. During the protest, the refugees waved banners and chanted slogans such as “Enough of living as refugees. No to verification. No to checks. No to interviews.” Most asked or demanded “a quick return” through the channels of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), shouting “We want to return to our homeland” or “Let’s go back to Myanmar. Don’t try to stop the repatriation.”

Rising crime, harsh living conditions and bleak prospects for returning to Myanmar are pushing more Rohingya refugees to leave Bangladesh by boat for countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, modern “boat people” willing to risk their lives. UN figures speak of at least 348 Myanmar refugees (whom Naypyidaw does not consider citizens) who lost their lives at sea in the past year alone.

Among those who want to return to the former Burma is Mohammad Jashim, one of the community leaders, who, however, demands that “citizenship rights be guaranteed.” “We are Myanmar citizens by birth. We want to go home with all our rights,” he added in the interview with Reuters, “including citizenship, freedom of movement, livelihood and security.” In this sense, he then asked for all the “help” of the United Nations.

Until recently, Burmese generals have been reluctant to win back the Rohingya, who for years were seen as invaders from abroad, without rights and victims of abuse. The first repatriation attempts date back to 2018 and 2019, but they failed because the refugees, fearing even harsher repression, refused to return. In fact, the pilot project provided for the return of some 1,100 refugees, who ran the risk of ending up “confined in other camps”, so the project never got underway.

For Bangladesh, densely populated and also mired in economic and social crisis, repatriation is the only possible solution. In addition, local communities are increasingly hostile towards the Rohingya, who need more resources as funding from major international humanitarian agencies decreases.

The World Food Program (WFP) recently reduced its monthly allowance for food items from $10 to $8 per person. “Our situation,” denounced Mohammed Taher, who went to the square to demonstrate, “does nothing but deteriorate. What future do we have here?” And Myanmar, with the “excuse” of the controls, “just trying to buy time.”

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Written by Editor TLN

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