Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are demanding to be repatriated to Myanmar so that they can leave the squalid camps they have lived in since fleeing a brutal military crackdown in their homeland in 2017.
More than a million Rohingya have been crammed into the camps in southeastern Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement. Most fled the crackdown by Myanmar’s military almost six years ago, although some have been there for longer.
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On June 1, the World Food Programme cut the monthly food allocation to $8 per person from $10 earlier. In March, the ration cut had been reduced from $12 to $10 due to a reduction in global aid for the refugees.
During Thursday’s demonstrations across the sprawling camps, the mainly Muslim refugees, young and old, waved placards and chanted slogans.
“No more refugee life. No verification. No scrutiny. No interview. We want quick repatriation through UNHCR data card. We want to go back to our motherland,” the placards read.
“Let’s go back to Myanmar. Don’t try to stop repatriation,” said the others.
‘We will go mad’
Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a protester, told Anadolu Agency that if things continued going downhill, they would be left with no option but to “steal food for survival”.
“Rohingya lives have been stuck in a quagmire. Sometimes I feel we will go mad,” he said.
Muhammad Ayaz, 35, who lives at the Teknaf refugee camp, told Anadolu: “We are citizens of Myanmar. We urge the global community to hear our appeal of returning home with proper citizenship rights and protection in Myanmar after repatriation.”
He said the food aid cut by the UN has pushed them to starvation. Women and children are the worst victims of the ration cut, he added, urging the global community, including the UN, to immediately ensure necessary food support and other basic needs as the refugees completely depend on aid for survival.
About 1M Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh refugee camps face extreme weather due to the climate crisis.
“Unlike other coastal areas in Bangladesh, the camps lack proper shelters,” a scientist told @AJEnglish #CycloneMocha killed nearly 150 in May, including 91 living in camps. pic.twitter.com/7Ya88BfBnv
— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 6, 2023
During a four-day visit to the refugee camps last week, Kelly T Clements, UN deputy high commissioner for refugees, said the refugees are completely reliant on humanitarian aid for their basic needs. However, the minimum funding for this assistance is no longer available, she said.
Humanitarian agencies have appealed for more than $876m this year to support the Rohingya in Bangladesh. As of June 2023, the Joint Response Plan for supporting them was only 24 percent funded.
‘What future do we have here?’
Rohingya community leader Mohammad Jashim said he was keen to return to Myanmar but wanted his citizenship rights guaranteed.
“We are the citizens of Myanmar by birth. We want to go back home with all our rights, including citizenship, free movement, livelihood, safety, and security,” he told Reuters news agency, saying the refugees hoped for the UN’s help in this regard.
Myanmar’s military had until recently shown little inclination to take back any Rohingya, who have for years been regarded as foreign interlopers in Myanmar and denied citizenship and subjected to abuse.
Attempts to begin repatriation in 2018 and 2019 failed as the refugees, fearing prosecution, refused to go back.
A group of 20 Rohingya told Reuters they would not return to Myanmar to “be confined in camps” after visiting their homeland as part of a pilot scheme aimed at encouraging voluntary repatriation.
A Bangladesh official said the pilot scheme envisaged about 1,100 refugees returning to Myanmar, but no date had been set.
Densely populated Bangladesh says refugees’ repatriation to Myanmar is the only solution to the crisis.
Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, on Thursday said Bangladesh must immediately suspend the pilot repatriation project for Rohingya to return to Myanmar, where they face serious risks to their lives.
Meanwhile, surging crime, harsh living conditions and bleak prospects for returning to Myanmar are driving more Rohingya to leave Bangladesh by boat for countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, putting their lives at risk.
UN data shows 348 Rohingya are thought to have died at sea last year.
Local communities in Bangladesh have also been increasingly hostile towards the Rohingya as international aid agencies’ funding for the refugees has dwindled.
“Our situation is only deteriorating. What future do we have here?” asked refugee Mohammed Taher, as he stood with other protesters.