KUTUPALONG | Stalls closed, refugees called to stay at home: the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh ceased all activity on Tuesday for “Genocide Remembrance Day”, despite the coronavirus marking the third anniversary of the exodus of this persecuted minority in Burma.
Nearly 750,000 members of this Muslim community fled in 2017 an ethnic cleansing in western Burma led by the army and Buddhist militias. They joined the ranks of some 200,000 Rohingya already sheltered in Bangladesh, a legacy of previous waves of violence.
The massive influx of refugees caused the birth of sprawling camps in the district of Cox’s Bazar (south-eastern Bangladesh), made up of rudimentary huts of tarpaulins and bamboo stretching as far as the eye can see and where extreme poverty reigns.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no major demonstrations were planned in the camps, unlike in previous years. “There will be no gatherings, no work, no prayers in mosques, no NGO or humanitarian activities, no Koranic schools, no food distribution,” told AFP Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya leader in the camps.
Shops and tea stalls, usual places of socialization, kept the door closed Tuesday in Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, an AFP journalist noted. Rohingya officials called on the million refugees to stay in their huts, but some of them ventured outside anyway.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is a terrorist, not a Nobel Peace Prize laureate,” proclaimed one of the posters plastered in the camp for this day of commemoration, in reference to the Burmese leader.
Major operations by the Burmese army began on August 25, 2017, in response to attacks by a Rohingya rebel group. Stories of killings, rapes and abuses fuel accusations of “genocide” against predominantly Buddhist Burma, where Rohingya Muslims have been treated as outcasts for decades.
The Burmese army “has killed over 10,000 of us. They carried out mass killings and rapes and forced our people to flee their homes, ”said Mohib Ullah.
“Nowhere to go”
Around 600,000 Rohingya are still in Burma, which does not consider them as its citizens, and live there in what Amnesty International describes as “apartheid” conditions.
Mohammad Bashar, 30, lost his father and uncles in the purification. Now a refugee in Bangladesh, he regularly thinks about his life in Burma before the exodus.
“I cannot describe all the suffering we have been through over the past three years. Living in the camps like beggars and outcasts, I often see in my dreams the house shaded by a tree, the cows and my happy family, ”he told AFP.
Bangladesh has signed an agreement with Burma for the return of refugees. But the Rohingyas refuse to return without guarantees for their rights and the assurance of being considered as full Burmese citizens.
“Burma must accept an international solution that offers a safe and voluntary return to Rohingya refugees, while Bangladesh, whose capacity we understand is limited, should not make conditions even more inhospitable for refugees who have nowhere to stay. go, ”said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.
A poor nation in South Asia, Bangladesh considers the Rohingyas to be Burmese citizens who do not intend to stay in its territory. Dhaka refuses to allow the camps to be developed to make them more sustainable and forbids refugees to leave them.
In fact, some Rohingyas have already spent several decades vegetating in the Bangladeshi camps. Desperation has prompted hundreds of Rohingyas to attempt to flee by boat to Southeast Asia in the hope of a better life. Many of them died on the way.