DHAKA: Rohingya refugees have told Arab News they do not trust the Myanmar government to keep them safe and secure if they return home, days after a second attempt to repatriate them failed.
Refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state two years ago that the United Nations liked to ethnic cleansing. More than a million Rohingya live in Bangladesh.
Nobi Hossain refused to believe the promises made by Myanmar authorities when they visited Cox’s Bazar in July.
“In recent months violence has escalated again in Rakhine,” he said. “The conflict has become more widespread as local Buddhist groups are also engaged in fighting against the military. So who will look after our safety in Rakhine?”
Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal with Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya in November 2017. The first repatriation attempt failed last November, when no refugees voluntarily agreed to go home.
“I don't think there are any favorable conditions for repatriation to Rakhine,” Azizur Rahman told Arab News. “A few of our relatives are still living there and they informed us the Rohingyas have no freedom of movement there.”
His nephew and some neighbours have been living in a camp for internally displaced people following a military offensive in 2012. The camp houses around 150,000 Rohingyas and they are prevented from working, making them dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Mohammad Ayub said Rohingyas were being asked to accept a national verification card, which the Burma Human Rights Network has said will exacerbate the refugees’ suffering once they return to Myanmar.
The Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and repression in Myanmar. They are effectively denied citizenship under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law and are one of the largest stateless populations in the world, while also enduring restrictions on movement and a lack of access to basic health care.
“We didn't get any guarantee of citizenship during last month’s dialogue with Myanmar authorities,” Ayub told Arab News. “Rather they have asked us to accept the NVC (National Verification Card) which doesn't make any sense when it's meant for foreign nationals. I was born in Rakhine and have been living there for three generations. Why should I accept the NVC?”
Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
But the UN said last Thursday that sexual violence committed by troops against Rohingya women and girls in 2017 was an indication of the military’s genocidal intent to destroy the minority.
The refugees who spoke to Arab News thought the Myanmar government was insincere about repatriation efforts.
“We want to go back Rakhine to our original places, where we usually live,” Rahima Khatun said. “But we have been asked to live in a camp in Rakhine after repatriation. So why should we move from one camp to another?”
The UN Refugee agency UNHCR says lack of trust in the Myanmar government is one of the main reasons for the failure of the Aug. 22 repatriation attempt.
“Building confidence is essential,” said Louise Donovan, UNHCR spokeswoman in Cox’s Bazar. “In late July, senior officials from Myanmar met Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. This was an important first step, and the dialogue should continue. Together with the UNDP, the UNHCR is supporting Myanmar’s efforts through the implementation of quick impact projects to improve conditions for all communities in Rakhine State and promote social cohesion between them, so that the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees is possible.”
But there should be a “continuous engagement of all concerned” in the repatriation process in order to build trust with refugees, she said, and this approach was “a process, not a one-off event.”