Monday, 2 October, 2023

Help us return home in Myanmar, Rohingyas appeal

"We kept raising our voices in our language. The international community is not paying heed. We are conveying our message in English too. Still, they don't pay heed. We are disappointed. We are not just victims, we are survivors repeatedly asking them to ensure accountability," Sayeeda, a Rohingya, said while addressing a huge crowd at Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar.

She said she can never forget this day, August 25, and mentioned that in the last six years they could not visit or see their homes in Myanmar.

"Justice has been delayed, justice has been denied," a tearful Sayeeda said.

"We want to return home to Myanmar," she said. Their collective demand is that Rohingyas must be able to return to their original homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Other demands include assurances of safety, security, and dignity — all within the upcoming summer, restoration of Myanmar citizenship with full rights like 135 other ethnic groups of Myanmar.

Boni Amin, now a 10-year-old, came here from Myanmar six years ago with eight of his family members amid military crackdown there. "I remember how houses were burned and the military forced us to leave our homes," the boy told UNB at the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar. He said they want to return to their homes.

Rohingya leaders at today’s rally said they want to appeal to the Myanmar government to allow them to return and stay in Myanmar like before — peacefully coexisting with other ethnic groups as citizens.

They said the Rohingya people have a significant contribution to the economy, prosperity and stability of Myanmar.

The Rohingyas drew the attention of the international community and UN organizations to take positive steps regarding their repatriation.

"Help us go back to our homeland Myanmar; that is our country. We do not want to stay in Bangladesh any longer," said Musa, a Rohingya man.

"Let us observe this day not only as a reminder of our shared tragedy but also as a call to action. Let our voices rise above the anguish, demanding justice for the Rohingya people. May our collective efforts pave the way for a world in which such atrocities are never repeated, and where all communities can live in harmony and security, ensuring peaceful stability and development of this region," he said.

Talking to UNB, Nur Jahan who lost her family members, said they want justice and they want to return to their homes if their safety is ensured in Myanmar.

She said they want full citizenship rights in Myanmar so that they feel secure.

The Rohingyas got together to commemorate the solemn occasion, Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day.

They said their hearts are heavy with the weight of a tragedy that continues to haunt them.

Around 25,000 Rohingyas joined dozens of rallies with the biggest one held in Kutupalong camp with around 10,000 refugees amid heavy rains.

They expressed their heartfelt gratitude to Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for extending hands in their darkest hour.

The Rohingyas demanded exerting international pressure on Myanmar so that they could return to their homes.

Six years after the Rohingya influx in Bangladesh, the government continues its efforts focusing on their safe repatriation, though some countries and international organisations are pushing for their integration in Bangladesh.

“Our priority is that they (Rohingyas) will return to their homeland. Myanmar is also willing to take them back,” said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, noting that Myanmar needs to ensure safety and security of the Rohingyas after their return to their place of origin.

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar’s military began carrying out violent operations against the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine state, which resulted in grave crimes under international law. Entire villages were burnt, and hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were forced to flee into Bangladesh.

The Foreign Minister said the government remains in a firm position regarding their repatriation to Myanmar.

Momen said Bangladesh already has a huge population and it does not need a large number of people from other countries.

The minister said Rohingyas came to Bangladesh in the 1970s, '80s and '90s but every time they returned, even during military rule in the past.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said no one should create a barrier to trial repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, noting that such trial repatriation will help understand issues before a large-scale repatriation.

“This trial repatriation is to know the areas of problems before the large-scale repatriation. It will help examine the issues for better designing a regular repatriation initiative. No one should create a barrier,” he said.

The State Minister said the Rohingyas did not say that they do not want to return; rather they always conveyed their desire for returning home whenever any foreign dignitaries met them at camps.

Responding to a question, Shahriar Alam said certainly there are challenges, arms and drug trafficking incidents increased in the camps while skilled members of the law enforcing agencies were killed and injured.

He urged all not to undermine Bangladesh’s efforts and recalled how the international media described Bhasan Char “a floating island” to undermine Bangladesh’s efforts.

The State Minister said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave shelter to the Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. “We will remain committed as long as they are in Bangladesh.”

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has called for renewed commitment from the international community for financial support to sustain the humanitarian response and political support to find solutions for over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Bangladesh.

A dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar remains the primary solution to this crisis, said the UNHCR, adding that “Rohingya refugees continue to tell us they want to return to Myanmar when it is safe for them to do so voluntarily.”

The collective goal should be to ensure Rohingyas’ voluntary return to Myanmar — to their places of origin or choice, being able to move freely and access documentation, citizenship pathways, services and income-generation opportunities to rebuild their lives, UNHCR said.